Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH) is a complex health condition that can threaten the life of a newborn infant. CDH is characterized by the underdevelopment of the diaphragm in utero, allowing some abdominal organs to migrate into the chest cavity, where they can impede heart and lung development. The course and outcome of CDH in newborns can vary from mild to severe, but the national survival rate for CDH is approximately 50 percent.
There are many complications that can arise from a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Pulmonary hypoplasia, or the underdevelopment of the lungs, can occur because there is not enough room for the lungs to develop properly. Often, the heart and lungs become taxed, resulting in the need for life support (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO).
Sometimes CDH is associated with other chromosomal abnormalities and congenital heart, gastrointestinal, and neurological defects.
Repairing the hernia (or opening) through a surgical procedure is often just one of the first steps of treatment. Because babies with CDH often require ventilator support and sometimes ECMO, a period of time is spent in intensive care while independent breathing is established.
Babies born with CDH often require oxygen and medication for a substantial period of time, and usually need assistance with feeding, growth, and movement. These treatments frequently take place in the hospital.
Once home, associated long-term problems for CDH babies can include chronic lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux, failure to thrive, developmental problems, and hearing loss.