15 Birth Defects You Won't Believe Are Real

While technology has aided childbirth immensely, there are still risks. Even the best hospitals can still run into issues that make birth a danger if things go wrong. However, there’s also the fact that some children are born with conditions that are baffling. Sometimes it can be genetics that cause them while other times it’s due to outside factors like drugs and such. However it happens, the infant is born with a condition that can be totally amazing in some ways…and horrifying in others. Sometimes, it’s something fatal that leads to a far too short life. Others can live with these conditions but still bizarre to see and it can hamper their social interactions – kids can be quite cruel.

The pictures can be jarring and in some cases gruesome. Yet you also feel sympathy for those afflicted and marvel how they can even endure such pain and agony at times. Some people are able to rise above this pain to live good lives and even inspire with their struggles. Others are cut far too soon in their young life yet make an impact in their own way. Whatever the case, the fact that some of these people even exist is remarkable and fascinating in its own way. Here are 15 birth defects you won’t believe are true and how crazy the human body can be.

15 Polydactly


It comes from the Greek word for “many” and it’s totally fitting. Every now and then, a person can be born with an extra digit or two. But some cases take it to a new level completely. Usually, it forms in the fetus and can drop off before the birth. Other people can carry one or two extra toes or fingers which are usually just for show and removable through surgery. But others actually are able to make, say, six fingers or toes work well and live with it. It’s usually to the side of the pinkie finger although some are able to have it by the thumb and while it can be aggravating to, say, get special gloves made, it is a condition you can live with.

Some folks are notable such as Drew Carey having six toes on one foot. Actress Gemma Arterton was born with an extra finger on each hand and had to have them removed. Biggest of all is Devandra Hame of India who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for possessing 12 fingers and 13 toes. One never knows when an extra digit is handy.

14 Cyclopia


Every legend has some basis in fact. Many doctors today believe that ancient fables and myths were begun by real conditions. This seems an obvious example as a baby is born with just one eye. The causes can vary although many speculate it’s a common result of in-breeding and others think it’s just due to some genetic fluke. During gestation, the eyes are meant to split off but this merges them together into one single orb. Thus, it’s believed this is how the Greek myth of the monster cyclops was born. The face is dominated by this eye, usually with no orb. It’s been known to happen in animals a lot with human births very rare and the majority afflicted are stillborn.

While it may sound intriguing, the fact is that the one single eye cannot transmit data and in fact, causes massive brain damage while the lack of a nose also constricts the breathing system. No child born with this defect has lived past two days as the human body isn’t meant to go with such a face. Remains are shown in museums to remind you how grisly the inspiration for some monsters can really be.

13 Sirenomelia


It’s pretty obvious whoever came up with the name for this has a slightly warped sense of humor. Also known as fused limbs, this occurs when the legs of an infant are merged together into one long leg that resembles a tail. Thus, someone decided to name it after a mermaid. It occurs roughly once in every 100,000 live births with more than half stillborn. It oddly occurs mostly with twins and sadly, it’s an often fatal disease. That’s because the mutation ruins the liver and kidneys and weakens the immune system and the lack of a bladder and uterus is something the body isn’t meant to handle.

There are some unique cases over the years. Tiffany Yorks underwent successful surgery to separate her legs and is the longest living person with the condition, passing on in 2016 at the age of 27. Milagros Corren was born in 2004 with a severe case but still lives today after some surgery. While it’s no fairy tale, the condition is still a rather unique one.

12 Microcephaly


Sometimes it can be obviously present at birth. Other times, it takes a while to develop (or not). The title is in the fact that some children are born with a head smaller than it should be. This is because the brain doesn’t develop to the proper size during gestation and thus shoots off to a set of defects. It’s linked to dwarfism but many afflicted are of proper size only heads much smaller than a normal person, up to three sizes. This means those afflicted have facial deformities and sadly also brain damage. They can be mentally retarded or at least unable to properly speak although some are capable of high intellect despite this. It also leads to poor motor skills, from simple clumsiness to full on seizures. Physical therapy can help with the body but the mind really has nothing to aid aside from the usual lessons for mentally underdeveloped children. While some are able to live a long life, it can be fatal in others and why new parents are concerned how well a fetus grows all the way.

11 Vestigial Tail

There has long been debate on whether human beings are truly descended from monkeys with many claiming that’s impossible. However, vestigiality does seem to prove them wrong. This refers to a body part no longer required due to evolution. For example, the appendix really doesn’t do anything which is why removing it is no big deal. During development, the human body always has a tail on the very small of the back which can be seen in the ultrasound. This tends to vanish when the spine develops but some people do manage to be born with it still intact. Often, it’s still raw and can thus be quickly removed upon birth with no problem. Some, however, have it much harder and thus require more surgery to get rid of it. And some even keep it for quite a few years, depending on its size.

Technically, it’s not a “tail” per se in that it can’t be moved or controlled and there really is no serious risk to having one. It’s just an odd sight to remind you how evolution can be a tricky thing.

10 Progeria


This has gotten some fame thanks to the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button although it plays with how it works. An infant can be born looking perfectly healthy. Then within two months, it suffers severe weight loss yet still seems okay. Then comes wrinkling of the skin and before long, a smaller face with loss of hair, a pinched nose and an abnormally large head on a thin neck. In short, children can be only four or five years old yet look like they’re in their 60s. As they continue to grow, no matter what they eat, they still don’t grow much on their bodies, looking like skeletons. They still retain full mental faculties and motor skills, making it even more bizarre. There’s no treatment for the condition itself although medication and therapy is available for its various symptoms like heart failure. However, the premature aging means the usual life span for some is only 13 years before dying of heart attack or stroke. While any kid wants to grow up fast, others can do it far too quickly.

9 Craniopagus Parasiticus

South Park naturally mocked this with a wild episode but it is, in fact, stunningly real. The parasite label comes from how a child can be born with what is…well, no other way to say it, an extra head. Not just a skull shape but a full-formed second head, complete with facial features (we've cropped it out, but if you dare, you can Google it). It’s a wilder version of conjoined twins and exceptionally rare, less than a dozen recorded cases. It’s mostly fatal as the human body was simply not meant to have something like this as only three of about a dozen have managed to survive with most stillborn. What happens is that the embryo of a twin fails to fully split apart and thus the parasitic head is attached. It’s much the same as conjoined twins but somehow the second fetus doesn’t fully form as it should.

It happens more in males than females and only one successful surgery of the second head has been performed. Its rarity makes it more striking when it happens and how stunning a sight it is.

8 Harlequin Ichthyosis


It may have “harlequin” in the title but there’s nothing funny about this defect. The reasons behind it are unknown with some believing it’s a transportation of certain proteins due to genetics or some drug use. The result is that an infant is born with a thick plating over their skin that makes it look as if it’s in “panels” of some sort. That includes deep cracks and it takes some serious washing to get some of it out. But most remains, cutting away hair growth and shifting the shape of the head, mouth and eyelids. This also disrupts the natural ability of the skin to protect the body from disease and injury. Infants often experience severe dehydration and badly afflicted by disease. With proper medication and treatment, people can live long lives but looking severely burned and still misshapen skulls, thus a defect that no one can laugh at.

7 Ambras Syndrome

Also known as hypertrichosis, this condition is often linked to what’s known as “werewolf disease.” There are some shifts and differences from genetics to caused by outside factors. Whatever the case, the result is children born with an abnormally large amount of hair on their body. It’s usually in the face, resulting in the said “werewolf” idea and many believe the condition is what started the myths in the first place. In some cases, there are facial deformities as the hair growth is so extreme that even constant shaving doesn’t keep the face from being covered totally within a day or two.

The only treatment is with medication and some extreme cases of laser surgery but that carried a lot of risk. There are fewer than 50 documented cases worldwide and those afflicted are out and proud showing their hairy faces off. It may look monstrous but the folks who have it are as human as anyone else.

6 Anencephaly


It’s a sight that can be gripping and often very severe. During gestation, a neural tube closes too early and thus deprives the head of an infant of much of its volume. It actually comes from the Greek term of “no head” although that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Mostly, they’re born with smaller heads, the tops squared off or even seemingly crushed in. In the most extreme cases, the brain is completely exposed and seemingly no top to their heads at all. The causes are highly debated such as too much folic acid from the mother during the pregnancy and more.

What’s sadder is that the condition is terminal. Most infants born with this die within a month of their birth, no matter how much medication or treatment is given. The longest to live was Nickolas Coke of Colorado who was born in 2008 and lasted nearly four years before passing. It’s a tragic sight and one that parents no doubt pray no child of theirs has to go through.

5 Brittle Bone Disease

Imagine having to suffer nearly 30 broken bones and shattered ribs. Now imagine if that were to happen in just the first year of your life. Its technical name is osteogenesis imperfecta but it’s much better known as “Brittle Bones Disease.” It’s usually clear from birth but some children are able to develop it as they mature. The main cause is a lack of Type I collagen which means the bones are practically glass. People have been known to shatter their necks just by sneezing. There are other odd touches like a blue tinge to the whites of the eyes, loose joints and hearing loss.

The best treatment is usually braces to help people walk and some extreme surgery can strengthen the bones via metal rods and pins. But while some people are able to live longer lives, they’re often shattered wrecks as just a slight bump can leave them unable to walk for months on end. Life is a lot tougher when your skeleton is as easily shattered as glass.

4 Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressive

It’s a mouthful of a name so some might go for something a bit simpler: Twisted spine syndrome. During development, the calcium volume of a fetus becomes unbalanced and thrown out of whack. Thus, the spinal cord is twisted about and causes new bones and tissue to grow where they shouldn’t. It’s not too obvious upon birth but as the infant grows to maturity, the body continues to be turned about to the point where it looks like the spinal cord is turned like taffy. It would take extreme surgery to fix it with many not surviving.

An offshoot of this is how some have the calcium go to their feet and thus be born with as many as eight or nine toes on one foot. Thankfully, this is quite rare, only one person in two million but those afflicted have to look forward to a very painful life twisted about.

3 Diphallia (Two Male Reproductive Organs)


This condition actually got some play on the comedy series 2 Broke Girls. When Max starts dating a guy, she’s surprised he doesn’t want to go straight for sex right off. They finally do get together with Max rocked the next day. Caroline presses her with some word games until finally Max blurts out that her boyfriend “has two penises, okay!” Caroline just blinks before asking “is that a thing that can happen?” Enter chef Oleg on his phone confirming that yes, it is a real condition.

As amazing as it sounds, it’s true. Occurring roughly during the 23rd to 25th weeks of gestation in the womb, the fetus somehow manages to grow an extra sexual organ. Reasons why are debated from stress to chemicals as an imbalance causes the reproductive organ to mutate into an additional organ. It’s rare but it exists as the extra organ is mostly just for show and not functional. Still, it makes you realize how some men’s “package” can be bigger than expected.

2 Gigantism


Being tall is one thing. Gigantism is something else altogether. Some people are just born with an abnormally large amount of growth hormone that causes them to be born in a large size. As they grow, the hormone kicks in huge and presses with a tumor on the brain. This causes the child to shoot up to a huge size so kids can often hit six or seven feet before they’re ten. It also leads to unnaturally large feet and hands as well as a face as they can grow up to nine feet tall. For far too long, those afflicted were forced to live as circus freaks and such. Probably the most famous case is Andre the Giant, the famed pro wrestler who stood over seven and a half feet tall with huge hands and feet which he used to be a star.

Sadly, Andre also showed the rough side of the defect. The human body can’t handle giving so much blood and such to such a huge frame and thus many afflicted don’t last past the age of 40 with many dying sooner of heart failure. Andre lasted to 43 but clearly not that great in the end and that being born so huge doesn’t mean a good life.

1 Foetus In Foetu


Imagine the sight of a child who looks like they’re pregnant. Not a teenager, an actual child, only two or three years old with a massive belly. It actually occurs, the name basically meaning “a fetus in a fetus.” One theory is that it starts as a regular fetus somehow absorbed into the second one. Others believe it’s just an abnormally large and deformed cyst. It occurs roughly one in every half-million births and often in poor areas like Africa and South America. It is considered alive but has no brain, heart or other organs. Thus, it’s not quite a parasitic twin but it can be life-threatening as it grows with the actual child.

The only real option is surgery but it can be tricky given this is a life form and has been known to attach itself to the host so getting rid of it is a risk. One of the more extreme cases was a boy who had his fetus nearly formed so it looked as if a body was trying to crawl inside him. Few things can be as baffling as a pregnant infant yet it can occur.

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