Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia

Congenital diaphragmatic hernia is a birth defect that results in an abnormal opening or hole in the diaphragm, which is the muscle under the lung that aids in breathing. When the diaphragm is torn, it allows other body organs, such as the spleen, liver, kidneys, stomach and intestines, to move into the chest cavity, near the lungs. The organs push into the lungs, making it difficult to breathe, and it can even cause the lungs to collapse. The condition also can prevent lung tissue from developing fully.

This type of hernia occurs as a result of structures improperly forming during fetal development and affects approximately 1 in 2,500 births. When a parent or sibling has a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, it can increase the risk of a newborn having the condition. Congenital diaphragmatic hernias often can be diagnosed with an ultrasound during pregnancy, otherwise it usually is apparent shortly after birth when the infant shows signs of breathing difficulties. The infant also may be slightly blue, due to the lack of proper oxygen levels, and may have a fast heart rate (tachycardia) or rapid breathing (tachypnea). Treatments, including possible surgical procedures, improve the outlook of the condition, but long-term effects may remain.

The Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialists at the University of Alabama Birmingham Women & Infants Center are available on-site 24 hours a day to manage problems associated with high-risk pregnancies. Our physicians are experts at managing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, Rh sensitization, multiple births, premature delivery risk, and other potential complications. 

MFM specialists at the UAB have access to treatments that often are not yet available elsewhere, which can reduce the chance of a recurrent preterm birth by one-third to one-half. We are one of the nation’s most advanced MFM programs, as evidenced by being one of only 14 centers participating in the national Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network for high-risk pregnancy research. To support our research we developed Alabama’s first OB/GYN Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, which implemented the first comprehensive first-trimester screening program and the first integrated first- and second-trimester screening program for fetal abnormalities.

Patients at UAB have access to the most up-to-date care, including first-trimester diagnosis, genetic testing and counseling, and 4D-ultrasound and fetal imaging. UAB’s team includes only board-certified MFM specialists as well as specialists with genetics certification. Our program also includes a personal labor nurse and three anesthesia specialists.

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