What causes an omphalocele?
It is not known what causes omphalocele. Steps that normally happen in the development of the abdominal organs and muscles simply did not happen properly. It is not known to be caused by anything the mother did during pregnancy.
Why is an omphalocele a concern?
Since some or all of the abdominal organs are outside the body, infection is a concern, especially if the protective membrane around the organs breaks. Also, an organ may lose its blood supply if it becomes pinched or twisted. A loss of blood flow can damage the affected organ.
How is an omphalocele diagnosed?
Omphalocele can often be detected on fetal ultrasound in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. A fetal echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) may also be done to check for heart abnormalities before the baby is born. Learn more about having a fetal echocardiogram at CHOC.
If your baby has been diagnosed with an omphalocele, we would be happy to schedule a consultation with your family and one of our top surgeons, as well as a CHOC neonatologist and your perinatologist, to prepare for the birth and subsequent care of your baby.
How is an omphalocele treated?
For a “small” omphalocele (only a portion of the intestine protruding outside the abdominal cavity), shortly after birth, surgery is done to return the organs to the abdomen and close the opening in the abdominal wall.
For a “large” omphalocele (most of the abdominal organs, including intestine, liver and spleen are present outside the abdominal cavity), the repair is done in stages and may include the following:
- At first, sterile, protective sheeting is placed over the abdominal organs.
- Because the abdomen may be small and underdeveloped, it may not be able to hold all of the organs at once. Therefore, the exposed organs are gradually moved back into the abdomen over several days or weeks.
- The abdominal wall is closed surgically once the organs have been returned to the abdominal cavity.
Because the abdominal cavity may be small and underdeveloped, and the organs may be swollen, a baby with an omphalocele may have breathing difficulties as the organs are returned to the abdomen. Your baby may need help from a breathing machine called a mechanical ventilator while the swelling is decreasing and the size of the abdominal cavity is increasing.
What is the long-term outlook for a baby born with an omphalocele?
Problems in the future often depend on:
- The size of the omphalocele
- If there was a loss of blood flow to part of the intestine or other organs
- The extent of other abnormalities.
Babies who have damage to the intestines or other abdominal organs may have long-term problems with digestion, elimination and infection.
Please talk with your baby’s doctor regarding the prognosis for your baby.