Congenital anomalies, also commonly referred to as birth defects, congenital disorders, congenital malformations, or congenital abnormalities, are conditions of prenatal origin that are present at birth, potentially impacting an infant’s health, development and/or survival. We will use the term congenital anomalies in this report. Congenital anomalies encompass a wide array of structural and functional abnormalities that can occur in isolation (i.e., single defect) or as a group of defects (i.e., multiple defects). Multiple defects may occur as part of well-described associations, such as the non-random co-occurrence of Vertebral anomalies, Anal atresia, Cardiac defects, Tracheoesophageal fistula, and/or Esophageal atresia, Renal and Radial anomalies, and Limb defects (VACTERL) .
Congenital anomalies vary substantially in severity. Some congenital anomalies are associated with spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, or death in the early postnatal period. Global deaths due to congenital anomalies decreased from 750.6 thousand in 1990 to 632.1 thousand in 2013, with respective age-standardized death rates of 11.0 and 8.7 per 100,000 . Subtypes of fatal congenital anomalies (with estimated number of global deaths in 2013 in thousands) are congenital heart anomalies (323.4), neural tube defects (68.9), Down’s syndrome (36.4), and chromosomal unbalanced rearrangements (17.3) . Other congenital anomalies may have little impact on survival. Anomalies which affect an infant’s life expectancy, health status, physical or social functioning may be described as “major” anomalies. In contrast, “minor” anomalies are those with little or no impact on health or short-term or long-term function . We have chosen to focus on major anomalies for this case definition due to their impact on public health and pre-existing structure for surveillance and reporting by large national and international organizations.