A hernia of the diaphragm is an abnormal opening in the diaphragm, the muscle which enables breathing. It affects one out of every 2200 to 5000 live births, and is also known as congenital hernia of the diaphragm.
It is a birth defect and is caused when the foetus's internal structures do not form correctly during pregnancy. Most cases appear on the left hand side of the body, and the chances of developing this condition increase slightly if a parent or sibling also suffers from the condition.
Hernia of the diaphragm is an extremely serious medical issue as the weakness in the diaphragm causes the baby's intestines to move up into the chest. This then prevents the lungs from developing properly.
If the condition is diagnosed after birth, emergency surgery is required to repair the diaphragm and place the organs in the correct position. Survival rates for this surgery are now greater than 80%
However, new surgical techniques mean that it may be possible to resolve the condition while the baby is still in the womb.
This involves positioning a clip or balloon catheter inside the diaphragm, to block the baby's airway. This then allows fluid to build up inside the baby's lungs, helping them to expand and grow normally.
The correction of a hernia of the diaphragm may not be suitable for all babies, and some techniques are only available in specialist centres.