The Surgical Correction of Congenital Deformities: The Treatment of Diaphragmatic Hernia, Esophageal Atresia and Small Bowel Atresia

Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2015 May 15;112(20):357-64. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2015.0357.


Background: More than half of all congenital deformities can be detected in utero. The initial surgical correction is of paramount importance for the achievement of good long-term results with low surgical morbidity and mortality.

Methods: Selective literature review and expert opinion.

Results: Congenital deformities are rare, and no controlled trials have been performed to determine their optimal treatment. In this article, we present the prenatal assessment, treatment, and long-term results of selected types of congenital deformity. Congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) affects one in 3500 live-born infants, while esophageal atresia affects one in 3000 and small-bowel atresia one in 5000 to 10,000. If a congenital deformity is detected and its prognosis can be reliably inferred from a prenatal assessment, the child should be delivered at a specialized center (level 1 perinatal center). The associated survival rates are 60-80% after treatment for CDH and well over 90% after treatment for esophageal or small-bowel atresia. Despite improvements in surgical correction over the years, complications and comorbidities still affect 20-40% of the treated children. These are not limited to surgical complications in the narrow sense, such as recurrence, postoperative adhesions and obstruction, stenoses, strictures, and recurrent fistulae, but also include pulmonary problems (chronic lung disease, obstructive and restrictive pulmonary dysfunction), gastrointestinal problems (dysphagia, gastro-esophageal reflux, impaired intestinal motility), and failure to thrive. Moreover, the affected children can develop emotional and behavioral disturbances. Minimally invasive surgery in experienced hands yields results as good as those of conventional surgery, as long as proper selection criteria are observed.

Conclusion: Congenital deformities should be treated in recognized centers with highly experienced interdisciplinary teams. As no randomized trials of surgery for congenital deformities are available, longitudinal studies and registries will be very important in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Esophageal Atresia / diagnosis
  • Esophageal Atresia / surgery*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Hernias, Diaphragmatic, Congenital / diagnosis
  • Hernias, Diaphragmatic, Congenital / surgery*
  • Herniorrhaphy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intestinal Atresia / diagnosis
  • Intestinal Atresia / surgery*
  • Intestine, Small / abnormalities*
  • Intestine, Small / surgery
  • Male
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / instrumentation
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / methods*
  • Prenatal Diagnosis / methods
  • Treatment Outcome

Supplementary concepts

  • Atresia of small intestine