Vertebral anomalies, or defects of the spinal column, usually consist of small (hypoplastic) vertebrae or hemivertebra where only one half of the bone is formed.
About 70 percent of patients with VACTERL association will have vertebral anomalies. In early life these rarely cause any difficulties, although the presence of these defects on a chest X-ray may alert the physician to other defects associated with VACTERL.
Later in life these spinal column abnormalities may put the child at risk for developing scoliosis, or curvature of the spine.
Anal atresia or imperforate anus is seen in about 55 percent of patients with VACTERL association. These anomalies are usually noted at birth and often require surgery in the first days of life. Sometimes babies will require several surgeries to fully reconstruct the intestine and anal canal.
Esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula (TE fistula) is seen in about 70 percent of patients with VACTERL association, although it can frequently occur as an isolated defect.
Fifteen percent to 33 percent of patients with TE fistulas will also have congenital heart disease. However these babies usually have uncomplicated heart defects, like a VSD, which may not require any surgery.
Renal or kidney defects are seen in approximately 50 percent of patients with VACTERL association. In addition, up to 35 percent of patients with VACTERL association have a single umbilical artery (there are usually two) which can often be associated with kidney or urologic problems.
These defects can be severe with incomplete formation of one or both kidneys or urologic abnormalities such as obstruction of outflow of urine from the kidneys or severe reflux (backflow) of urine into the kidneys from the bladder.
These problems can cause kidney failure early in life and may require kidney transplant. Many of these problems can be corrected surgically before any damage can occur.
Limb defects occur in up to 70 percent of babies with VACTERL association and include absent or displaced thumbs, extra digits (polydactyly), fusion of digits (syndactyly) and forearm defects.
Babies with limb defects on both sides tend to have kidney or urologic defects on both sides, while babies with limb defects on only one side of the body tend to have kidney problems on that same side.
Many babies with VACTERL are born small and have difficulty gaining weight. However, they tend to have normal development and intelligence.