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Birth Defects: Condition Information

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What are birth defects?

Birth defects are structural or functional abnormalities present at birth that can cause physical disability, intellectual and developmental disability (IDD), and other health problems. Some may be fatal, especially if not detected and treated early.

Researchers have identified thousands of different birth defects. According to the CDC, birth defects are the leading cause of death for infants in the United States during the first year of life.1

The NICHD is aware that the term "birth defects" carries negative undertones and that the term does not reflect the many abilities and talents of those affected by these problems. Communities are discussing alternative terms for describing these birth problems. Until a consensus is reached, this website uses the term "birth defects" to describe health problems present at birth.


  1. Kochanek, K. D., Kirmeyer, S. E., Martin, J. A., Strobino, D. M., & Guyer, B. (2012). Annual summary of vital statistics: 2009. Pediatrics, 129, 338-348. Retrieved July 19, 2012, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/01/25/peds.2011-3435.abstract External Web Site Policy [top]

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Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 11/30/2012