What is Esophageal Atresia?

The esophagus and trachea (the windpipe) form from a single tube before a baby is born and should separate into the two structures.  Sometimes they don’t separate properly.  Although there are different malformations that can result, the most common one  results in an obstructed upper esophagus (esophageal atresia) and a lower esophagus that remains connected to the trachea (trachea-esophageal fistula).  This leaves the baby with two problems:  1) he or she can’t swallow and therefore can’t eat and 2) stomach acid can get into the lungs and cause pneumonia.  The operation required separates the lower esophagus from the trachea and connects it to the upper esophagus.  Variations of this condition are fistula without atresia, atresia without a fistula, and too great a distance between the two ends to put them together.  Some babies with this condition have other abnormalities as well:  heart defects, kidney problems, malformations of the rectum, and spine problems. 

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