Common Birth Defects

Genital and Urinary Tract Defects

What are genital or urinary tract defects?

Birth defects of the genitals or urinary tract can involve the kidneys, ureters, bladder, urethra, and male and female genitals. For boys, the genitals include the penis, prostate gland and testes. For girls, they include the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Some of the most common defects include renal agenesis, hydronephrosis, hypospadias, and ambiguous genitals.

How common are genital or urinary tract defects?

Abnormalities of the genitals and urinary tract are among the most common of all birth defects, present in as many as one in 10 babies. Some abnormalities are minor and produce no symptoms. Other malformations can be more serious, causing urinary tract infections, pain, or kidney damage. Many urinary tract defects can be diagnosed at birth with an ultrasound. The causes of most urinary and genital birth defects are unknown, but some abnormalities are inherited from parents who either have the disorder or carry the gene for it.

How is the child affected by genital or urinary tract defects?

The symptoms of urinary and genital birth defects vary. Often children born with this kind of defect are prone to urinary tract infections, high blood pressure, and other problems. A baby born with a single kidney (unilateral renal agenesis) may be at increased risk for high blood pressure, kidney stones, or kidney failure. Hydronephrosis, caused by a blockage in the urinary tract, can cause kidney failure. Children with bladder extrophy or epispadias may have bladder-control problems. A child born with ambiguous genitals may suffer significant psychological stress. Many genital and urinary tract defects can be painful.

What are the treatments for genital or urinary tract defects?

There are many successful surgical options to treat birth defects involving the genitals and urinary tract. In fact, some surgeries can be performed even before the baby is born. For example, significant hydronephrosis is diagnosed in about one in 500 pregnancies during a prenatal ultrasound examination. Sometimes, doctors will opt to insert a small tube into the fetus's bladder to reduce the kidney swelling. Prenatal treatment of these kinds of obstructions has been the most successful form of fetal surgery to date. Other surgeries are available to affected babies, in infancy or early childhood, to correct the different kinds of defects. Some children require multiple surgeries to achieve normal urinary and genital function. Sometimes, as in the case of ambiguous genitals, psychological counseling is recommended in addition to surgical intervention.