Imperforate Anus in Newborns

May 15, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Rare birth defects are often scary and difficult for parents because of the unpredictability and anxiety they bring. Not only do parents and caregivers need to respond to a serious health condition, but in many cases, it is one they have not heard of. This requires learning about the symptoms, treatments, and long-term effects in a situation where stress and anxiety are already high.

Fortunately, although imperforate anus in newborns is a serious condition with significant health risks, it is also highly treatable. This guide will help you understand the causes, treatments, and care needs so you can make the best decision for the health and wellness of your family.

What is Imperforate Anus?

Imperforate anus is a birth defect where the opening of the anus is blocked or absent entirely. As a result, babies with this condition cannot pass stool from their rectum through the anus. Because of the severe complications this involves, babies diagnosed with imperforate anus generally require immediate surgical treatment.

Causes of Imperforate Anus in Newborns

Doctors and researchers do not completely understand the exact causes of imperforate anus. In many cases, genetic and environmental factors are believed to be the main contributors.

Imperforate anus can be associated with genetic disorders, including Down syndromeHirschsprung’s Disease, or a collection of birth defects that often occur together, known as the VACTERL association. VACTERL stands for vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheoesophageal fistula, renal anomalies, and limb abnormalities.

Environmental factors that increase the risk of imperforate anus include:

  • Exposure to certain medications during pregnancy, including anticonvulsants and isotretinoin
  • Infections or illnesses during pregnancy

In many cases, the cause of imperforate anus in newborns is not predictable or preventable, and no exact cause can be identified.

Types of Imperforate Anus

Imperforate anus can develop in a range of types, including a complete absence of the anus to a partially formed anus with a small opening. The severity of the condition can also vary, especially if other birth defects in the digestive or urinary tract are present.

Symptoms of Imperforate Anus in Newborns

The symptoms of imperforate anus in newborns may include:

  • Failure to pass the first stool, called meconium, within the first 24 to 48 hours of life
  • Visible absence of an anus or anal opening
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Failure to thrive and developmental delays
  • Passing meconium through the vagina or urethra

In some cases, newborns may have a small opening allowing partial stool passage. In other cases, there can be a total absence of the anus. If a newborn shows any of the symptoms of imperforate anus, it is important to seek immediate medical attention for evaluation and treatment.

Diagnosing Imperforate Anus in Newborns

Imperforate anus is typically identified at birth when the newborn does not pass meconium within the first one to two days. Meconium may come out of the baby’s vagina or urethra. Doctors can confirm the diagnosis with a physical examination, review of medical history, and diagnostic testing if needed.

Treatment Options for Imperforate Anus

Standard treatment for imperforate anus in newborns requires surgery to make an opening in the anus or to reconstruct the anal opening. Other approaches involve connecting the colon to an abdominal opening, called a colostomy.

Many children will have a temporary colostomy that enables the large intestine to empty bowel contents into a bag. Once the organs have healed and can function normally, the colostomy will be removed so children can have regular bowel movements.

With prompt treatment, most newborns with imperforate anus can pass stool normally and recover from the condition. However, outcomes can vary depending on individual severity and the presence of other conditions.

Caring for a Child With Imperforate Anus

A key aspect of care at any stage of treatment for imperforate anus is creating a healthy and stress-free environment. Parents and caregivers should also follow all provider instructions for treatment including colostomy care and surgical recovery. Rehabilitation and therapy is often recommended to help children learn normal bowel control and improve bowel function.

For many families, pediatric home health support can be highly beneficial in caring for a child in treatment or recovering from an imperforate anus. From medication administration to feeding assistance, a qualified pediatric home health registered nurse (RN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) can help provide the best possible care for your child and your family’s overall wellness.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support one-on-one in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.