More American infants are being born with their intestines outside of their bodies, and the disturbing trend might be linked to the opioid crisis, health officials reported Thursday.
The condition, called gastroschisis, is caused by a hole beside the belly button. The hole can be small or large, and sometimes other organs such as the stomach and liver can also be outside of the baby’s body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists.
“The cases of gastroschisis continue to increase, and we did see higher rates of cases in counties that had higher rates of opioid prescriptions,” said lead researcher Jennita Reefhuis. She is chief of the Birth Defects Branch at CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
The researchers found that counties that had higher rates of opioid prescribing had nearly two times more babies born with gastroschisis, compared with counties with low opioid prescribing rates.
“However, we do not know if these two things are directly related,” Reefhuis stressed. “We plan to use this information to guide future research into the effects of opioids used during pregnancy.”
Babies born with gastroschisis need an operation to correct the condition. They also may need other treatments, including nutrients given through an IV, antibiotics to prevent infection and careful monitoring of their body temperature.
Each year, about 1,800 babies in the United States are born with gastroschisis, according to the CDC.