What are the causes of cleft lip and palate?

The cause of cleft lip and palate is typically a genetic one, but there are also instances in which environmental factors play a role. Certain drugs and medications, for example, can in some ways modify the genetic make up of a child if they were taken by the mother. Cleft lip and cleft lip palate are two forms of the condition that are more prevalent in males, while cleft palate is more likely found in females. There is also evidence to suggest that this is a condition related to ethnicity.

For example, there is evidence to suggest that Asian and Latino people are most likely to have the condition, closely followed by those of European ethnicity, with people of African origin least likely to develop the condition. It is difficult to say exactly why this is and doctors have great difficulty in diagnosing whether a child will have the condition during pregnancy. This is unless signs are spotted during the routine ultrasound scan at around the eighteen to twenty week mark.

There are some instances in which cleft lip and palate occurs with no genetic inclination to it. Below are explanations for both the genetic and environmental causes:

  1. Genetic - For some this is a condition that runs in the family as it is in their genetic make up. Research has shown that people with certain genetic make ups could be as much as three times more likely to develop a cleft lip and palate. There is still much research needed to fully understand the genetic pattern that causes this condition.
  2. Drugs - There are certain medications and drugs that can increase the likelihood of your child developing cleft lip and palate during pregnancy. These include anti-epilepsy medications, benzodiazepines for conditions related to anxiety and insomnia, steroids, diazepam, corticosteroids and anticonvulsives. There is also the chance that some acne medications can have an affect on the development of an unborn child. If you are prescribed such medication then you should let your doctor know if you are planning on trying for a child.
  3. Infection - If you have an infection during pregnancy then there is the chance this will cause your child to develop cleft lip and palate. You should speak to your doctor to see if anything can be done to remedy the infection as soon as possible.
  4. Smoking - There is evidence to suggest that smoking during pregnancy can lead to your child developing this condition. In fact, it has been found that a pregnant woman who smokes could as much as double the risk of their child developing cleft lip and palate. It is therefore best not to smoke during pregnancy.
  5. Alcohol consumption - Evidence has found that a mother who drinks more than ten units of alcohol per month could as much as quadruple the chances of their child developing cleft lip and palate. The recommended consumption of alcohol units for a woman who is not pregnant is fourteen per week, but when pregnant amendments should be made.
  6. Shortage of folic acid - There is evidence to suggest that a deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy can lead to your child developing cleft lip and palate. It is therefore advised that pregnant women take daily supplements during the initial four month period of pregnancy. This is when the child is still in the stages of developing the roof of the mouth and lips. Pregnant women who do not take folic acid supplements during pregnancy could be as much as twice likely to have a child with cleft lip and palate.
  7. Obesity - There is an inclination toward obese pregnant women having children with cleft lip and palate. There is somewhat a minimal risk of this condition developing as a consequence of obesity but there is a risk none the less.

Cleft Lip and Palate Guide:

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