How can someone be born with organs outside the body?


Ultrasounds can help detect omphalocele before a baby is born.
Ultrasounds can help detect omphalocele before a baby is born.
Thierry Dosogne/Iconica/Getty

Like gastroschisis, an omphalocele is a birth defect in which organs normally located in the body develop outside the body because of an opening near the umbilical cord. It can range in severity from mild to catastrophic but is generally larger and more dangerous than gastroschisis. With a small-type omphalocele, only a small piece of intestine pokes through the hole in the abdomen. A large-type omphalocele occurs when several major organs, such as the liver, intestines, spleen, ovaries and testes, appear outside the body.

Like gastroschisis, an omphalocele can be diagnosed during pregnancy through ultrasound, but only after the first trimester. The causes of this defect remain unknown. Small-type omphaloceles occur in one in 5,000 births, and large-type omphaloceles are found in one in 10,000 births [source: University of Virginia Health System]. Generally, omphaloceles are more dangerous than gastroschisis because they often appear with other birth defects -- this happens in twenty-five to 40 percent of babies born with omphaloceles [source: MedlinePlus]. Babies with large-type omphaloceles may also have lung and heart problems and chromosomal abnormalities.

A small-type omphalocele can sometimes be repaired through surgery not long after birth. The treatment of a large-type omphalocele is more complicated. With a large-type omphalocele, the organs developing on the outside of the body are protected by a membrane, but this membrane is fragile. If it breaks, the subsequent infections almost always prove fatal. Making the situation more delicate, the newborn's abdomen is usually too small for surgeons to surgically implant the organs in the body.

To protect the membrane-covered organs, doctors often use a treatment called paint and wait [source: Hageman]. Doctors prescribe an antibiotic cream that's regularly applied to the membranous sac surrounding the organs. The membrane hardens while skin develops and begins to cover parts of the organs. Once the baby has grown and the situation is stabilized, surgeons close the abdominal cavity with the organs tucked inside.

While these birth defects can sometimes be life threatening, advancements in medicine often makes them treatable. For more information about organs developing outside of the body, birth defects and other related topics, please follow the links below.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Engber, David. "The Case of the Inside-Out Baby." Slate. Sept. 28, 2006.
  • Hageman, B. "6-week-old Naperville baby fights the odds against her survival." Chicago Tribune. April 20, 2008.,0,3987695.story
  • "Cloacal exstrophy." Children's Hospital Boston.
  • "Gastroschisis." American Pediatric Surgical Association. 2003.
  • "Gastroschisis." Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health. Oct. 8, 2007.
  • "Omphalocele." Medline Plus. National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health. Oct. 8, 2007.
  • "Omphalocele." University of Virginia Health System. Jan. 28, 2008.