Ectopia cordisis a rare birth defect and affects five per million births globally

New Delhi, 20 December 2017: As per statistics, Ectopia cordis is a rare birth defect and is reported to happen in 5 per one million births globally. About 250 such cases have been reported globally and another 23 cases have been recorded in India. This condition is more common in male infants. Among the various types, abdominal ectopic cordis has a better prognosis while cervical and thoracic ectopia cordis are quite fatal within days.

Ectopia cordis is an extremely rare birth defect in which the heart is abnormally located either partially or totally outside the chest cavity. Normally, the heart is located in the chest cavity in between the lungs. However, in this rare condition, the heart forms either partly or totally outside the chest cavity. The ectopic heart may protrude through the neck, chest, or abdomen. In most cases, the heart protrudes outside the chest through a split breast bone [sternum].

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee Dr K K Aggarwal, National President Indian Medical Association (IMA) and President Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and Dr RN Tandon – Honorary Secretary General IMA in a joint statement, said, “This birth disorder is usually fatal and a new born with this condition rarely survives for more than a few hours or days. During a baby’s development in the mother’s womb, the chest wall does not fuse together as it normally should. This prevents the heart from developing in normally, leaving it exposed outside the chest wall. Ectopia cordis is also classified in two different ways according to its location: with reference to chest cavity and with reference to the vertebral column. As the heart may be positioned completely outside their body, itis unprotected and extremely vulnerable to injury and infection. This condition almost always involves additional problems with the structure of a child’s heart and can lead to difficulty in breathing, low blood pressure, poor circulation, low blood pH, and electrolyte imbalance (dyselectrolytemia).”


Most of the infants born with ectopia cordis have other medical problems as well. This includes other abnormally developed organs.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, said, “Infants who survive birth with this condition require intensive care including incubation and use of a respirator. Experts may also use sterile dressings to cover the heart. Other supportive care, such as antibiotics to prevent infection, is also needed. There are cases in which it may be attempted to relocate the child’s heart inside their chest and close their thoracic cavity. However, this has many challenges, particularly if the child has severe defects.”

Although this is a condition that cannot be prevented, there are certain tips a woman can follow to prevent other birth defects in newborns.

  • Consume a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit the intake of processed or junk food.
  • Quit smoking or drinking as both these habits can harm the fetus. Avoid any form of drugs as well.
  • Some infections that a woman can get during pregnancy can be harmful to the developing baby and can even cause birth defects. Follow a healthy lifestyle to avoid these.
  • Get all your pregnancy vaccinations on time and take any medications prescribed as per schedule.

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