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What is Teratology?

Teratology is the medical discipline that focuses on birth defects and congenital abnormalities. Most teratological professionals provide consultative services to pregnant women, or engage in complex research. Learn more about the future of teratology at the National Institutes of Health's website.

A Brief Introduction

A small percent of all births are complicated by some sort of birth defect. One of the most common causes is genetic abnormalities and the consumption of prescribed medications. Sometimes, they can also be caused by herbal supplements and over the counter medications. Teratological professionals strive to understand which prenatal factors, like prescriptions, raise medical risks to babies and mothers.

Medical professionals with a teratological background usually study of the causes of congenital malformations. For example, they may inquire into the occurrence of autism in children whose mothers took certain drugs during pregnancy, or they may research the correlation of birth defects in children exposed during pregnancy to toxic elements in the mother's environment. They may also determine the accuracy of physician diagnoses in identifying malformations in newborn infants, or they may determine the pattern of anomalies in children exposed to certain prenatal diagnosis procedures.

Genetic Counseling

Genetic counseling is provided to pregnant women and their partners regarding the relative medical risks associated with them giving birth. Genetic counselors review family and medical histories in order to determine potential problems and educate expecting mothers about things like inheritance defects, chromosomal risk and teratology-based birthing abnormalities. Pregnant women are introduced to critical lab and diagnostic services such as biochemical screening, chromosome analysis and molecular DNA technology.

Once pregnant women receive an interpretation of their test results, they will learn about various prenatal diagnostic options and their associated risks and benefits. Genetic counseling is very effective at helping pregnant women with potential abnormal births make the best medical decisions. Genetic counselors collaborate with the other health team members to provide comprehensive care in perinatal settings. They also provide pre-conception and pregnancy loss counseling from a genetic perspective.

Potential Careers

Medical reviewers perform individual case analysis on incoming event reports. They are responsible for collecting data from pregnancy reports, creating spreadsheet tables and compiling periodic safety and medical reports for county and state regulators. They also provide consultative support to attorneys, law enforcement and medical professionals. They usually provide team leadership, strategic oversight and technical expertise to laboratories. They ensure effective interpretations, high quality data and sustainable scientific databases.

Necropsy biologists are responsible for conducting teratology-based lab work, such as pathology reports and toxicology studies. They are employed in hospital morgues to perform fetal external, visceral and skeletal evaluations. They must be familiar with various dissection techniques, cross examinations and standard software programs. They provide unscheduled necropsy consultations to health care providers and other professionals. They are also responsible for blood collection, nerve dissections and online data entry into medical databases.

Other careers in teratology include toxicologists who work in health care and research organizations. They provide leadership, decision-making, personnel direction and project management support and recommendations regarding herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and biological products.