Esophageal atresia (pronounced: eh-SAH-fuh-GEE-uhl ah-TREE-zee-uh) is a congenital disorder of the baby's feeding passage (esophagus) that connects the back of the mouth with the stomach. Instead of connecting the mouth to the stomach it ends in a “blind pouch” because of a missing segment of esophagus. In most cases there is a small fistula or passageway from the blind pouch of the esophagus to the trachea (called a tracheoesophageal or TE fistula). With part of the esophagus missing, the baby cannot swallow food or even its own saliva. For all babies with esophageal atresia, with or without a tracheoesophageal fistula, the missing segment between the two ends of the esophagus must be connected for normal eating.
Sometimes this condition is detected on prenatal ultrasound when no fluid is observed in the unborn baby's stomach. Also, the mother will typically have polyhydramnios (extra amniotic fluid) because the baby will not be swallowing the amniotic fluid before birth.
Very soon after birth babies with esophageal atresia, with or without TE fistula, will have difficulty feeding and show symptoms of aspiration (such as choking or pneumonia). When this disorder is suspected, a thin plastic tube that can be seen on x-ray will be inserted into the baby's esophagus and a chest x-ray will be taken to see whether the tube can pass readily into the stomach (as it would with normal anatomy). The cause of esophageal atresia, like that of most birth defects, is unknown. Esophageal atresia alone or with tracheoesophageal fistula (ea/tef) occurs in approximately one in 2500 live births.
Using data from Minnesota births between 2014-2018, we found 92 babies were born with esophageal atresia, resulting in a rate of nearly 3 babies per 10,000 births. Annually, about 18 babies were born with esophageal atresia. Parental education and support are essential, and local, regional, and national organizations may be very helpful.