Why are some people born with a reversal of organs?

Bodily Organs Image Gallery NBA player Randy Foye has situs inversus totalis, but the condition doesn't affect his life or performance on the court. See bodily organ pictures to learn more.

When you look in the mirror, you see a transposed image of yourself. Now imagine having supernatural powers or x-ray vision and looking into your mirror image to see your internal organs. This is how your organs may look if you had reversal of organs. When a person's internal organs are reversed, they appear on opposite sides of the body than they typically are. Also called situs inversus, this puzzling and intriguing condition occurs in just 0.01 percent of all people. It's seen equally in males and females [source: eMedicine].

In many cases, reversal of organs won't lower a person's life expectancy or harm his quality of life. That's why some people never know they have this condition. It can be diagnosed by accident -- an incidental finding in an unrelated medical procedure, like an abdominal surgery. Situs inversus and other related disorders can also be diagnosed through x-ray, ultrasound and CT scan. Using ultrasound, doctors can detect reversal of organs while a fetus is still in the womb.

Most of the time, there's no way and no need to treat reversal of organs. Entire organs can't be switched, but accompanying disorders or abnormalities may require treatment.

We still don't know exactly what causes the condition. Scientists only know that a mutation appears in the genes of people whose organs are reversed, but the specific cause of the mutation and its nature are unknown.

Before we explore this medical mystery further, let's cover some related medical terms:

  • Situs solitus: normal arrangement of internal organs
  • Levocardia: normal positioning of the heart on the left side of the body
  • Mesocardia: heart positioned in the center of the chest
  • Dextrocardia: reversal of the position of the heart

Let's look at some examples and variations of this rare birth defect.