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Diaphragmatic Hernia

What It Is

In babies born with a diaphragmatic hernia, abdominal organs such as the stomach, spleen, kidney and part of the liver appear in the chest cavity. This abnormality results from an improper joining of structures during the development of the fetus. The deformation leads to underdevelopment of the lung tissue.  Congenital diaphragmatic hernia affects one in every 2,200 to 5,000 live births. In babies suffering this defect, the left side is more often affected than the right. Risk is slightly increased for babies who have a parent or sibling with the condition.


  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • Bluish colored skin caused by insufficient oxygen
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Accelerated heart rate (tachycardia)


Anti-depressants: Recent large-scale studies of babies born with and without birth defects indicate that maternal use of some SSRI anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs may double the risk of delivering a baby with diaphragmatic hernia. The anti-depressants that may cause this increased risk include:

  • Prozac
  • Zoloft
  • Paxil
  • Celexa
  • Lexapro


A diaphragmatic hernia is a serious condition for which surgery is necessary. An incision is made into the child’s abdomen, just under the upper ribs. The surgeon then moves the organs down through the opening of the diaphragm, into their proper position in the abdominal cavity. Next, the surgeon repairs the hole in the diaphragm, either with stiches or a plastic patch. Following surgery, with the increased room in the chest cavity, the lungs have the space to expand.

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