Skip Navigation
Genetics Home Reference: your guide to understanding genetic conditions
http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/     A service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine®

VACTERL association

Reviewed December 2011

What is VACTERL association?

VACTERL association is a disorder that affects many body systems. VACTERL stands for vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheo-esophageal fistula, renal anomalies, and limb abnormalities. People diagnosed with VACTERL association typically have at least three of these characteristic features. Affected individuals may have additional abnormalities that are not among the characteristic features of VACTERL association.

Defects in the bones of the spine (vertebrae) are present in 60 to 80 percent of people with VACTERL association. These defects may include misshapen vertebrae, fused vertebrae, and missing or extra vertebrae. In some people, spinal problems require surgery or cause health problems, such as back pain of varying severity, throughout life. Sixty to 90 percent of individuals with VACTERL association have narrowing or blockage of the anus (anal atresia). Anal atresia may be accompanied by abnormalities of the genitalia and urinary tract (genitourinary anomalies). Heart (cardiac) defects occur in 40 to 80 percent of individuals with VACTERL association. Cardiac defects can range in severity from a life-threatening problem to a subtle defect that does not cause health problems. Fifty to 80 percent of people with VACTERL association have a tracheo-esophageal fistula, which is an abnormal connection (fistula) between the esophagus and the windpipe (trachea). Tracheo-esophageal fistula can cause problems with breathing and feeding early in life and typically requires surgical correction in infancy. Kidney (renal) anomalies occur in 50 to 80 percent of individuals with VACTERL association. Affected individuals may be missing one or both kidneys or have abnormally developed or misshapen kidneys, which can affect kidney function. Limb abnormalities are seen in 40 to 50 percent of people with VACTERL association. These abnormalities most commonly include poorly developed or missing thumbs or underdeveloped forearms and hands.

Some of the features of VACTERL association can be subtle and are not identified until late in childhood or adulthood, making diagnosis of this condition difficult.

How common is VACTERL association?

VACTERL association occurs in 1 in 10,000 to 40,000 newborns.

What genes are related to VACTERL association?

VACTERL association is a complex condition that may have different causes in different people. In some people, the condition is likely caused by the interaction of multiple genetic and environmental factors. Some possible genetic and environmental influences have been identified and are being studied.

The developmental abnormalities characteristic of VACTERL association develop before birth. The disruption to fetal development that causes VACTERL association likely occurs early in development, resulting in birth defects that affect multiple body systems. It is unclear why the features characteristic of VACTERL association group together in affected individuals.

How do people inherit VACTERL association?

Most cases of VACTERL association are sporadic, which means they occur in people with no history of the condition in their family. Rarely, families have multiple people affected with VACTERL association. A few affected individuals have family members with one or two features, but not enough signs to be diagnosed with the condition. In these families, the features of VACTERL association often do not have a clear pattern of inheritance. Multiple genetic and environmental factors likely play a part in determining the risk of developing this condition and how severe the condition will be in an individual.

Where can I find information about diagnosis or management of VACTERL association?

These resources address the diagnosis or management of VACTERL association and may include treatment providers.

  • MedlinePlus Encyclopedia: Tracheoesophageal Fistula and Esophageal Atresia Repair (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002934.htm)

You might also find information on the diagnosis or management of VACTERL association in Educational resources (http://www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/vacterl-association/show/Educational+resources) and Patient support (http://www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/vacterl-association/show/Patient+support).

General information about the diagnosis (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/diagnosis) and management (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/treatment) of genetic conditions is available in the Handbook.

To locate a healthcare provider, see How can I find a genetics professional in my area? (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/findingprofessional) in the Handbook.

Where can I find additional information about VACTERL association?

You may find the following resources about VACTERL association helpful. These materials are written for the general public.

You may also be interested in these resources, which are designed for healthcare professionals and researchers.

What other names do people use for VACTERL association?

  • VATER association

For more information about naming genetic conditions, see the Genetics Home Reference Condition Naming Guidelines (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/ConditionNameGuide) and How are genetic conditions and genes named? (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/mutationsanddisorders/naming) in the Handbook.

What if I still have specific questions about VACTERL association?

Ask the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/GARD/).

What glossary definitions help with understanding VACTERL association?

anus ; atresia ; cardiac ; diagnosis ; esophagus ; fistula ; genitalia ; inheritance ; kidney ; pattern of inheritance ; renal ; sporadic ; surgery ; surgical

You may find definitions for these and many other terms in the Genetics Home Reference Glossary (http://www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov/glossary).

References

  • Garcia-Barceló MM, Wong KK, Lui VC, Yuan ZW, So MT, Ngan ES, Miao XP, Chung PH, Khong PL, Tam PK. Identification of a HOXD13 mutation in a VACTERL patient. Am J Med Genet A. 2008 Dec 15;146A(24):3181-5. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.32426. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19006232?dopt=Abstract)
  • Raam MS, Pineda-Alvarez DE, Hadley DW, Solomon BD. Long-term outcomes of adults with features of VACTERL association. Eur J Med Genet. 2011 Jan-Feb;54(1):34-41. doi: 10.1016/j.ejmg.2010.09.007. Epub 2010 Oct 1. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20888933?dopt=Abstract)
  • Solomon BD, Pineda-Alvarez DE, Raam MS, Bous SM, Keaton AA, Vélez JI, Cummings DA. Analysis of component findings in 79 patients diagnosed with VACTERL association. Am J Med Genet A. 2010 Sep;152A(9):2236-44. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.33572. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683998?dopt=Abstract)
  • Solomon BD, Pineda-Alvarez DE, Raam MS, Cummings DA. Evidence for inheritance in patients with VACTERL association. Hum Genet. 2010 Jun;127(6):731-3. doi: 10.1007/s00439-010-0814-7. Epub 2010 Apr 6. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20369369?dopt=Abstract)
  • Solomon BD. VACTERL/VATER Association. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2011 Aug 16;6:56. doi: 10.1186/1750-1172-6-56. Review. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21846383?dopt=Abstract)

 

The resources on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Users seeking information about a personal genetic disease, syndrome, or condition should consult with a qualified healthcare professional. See How can I find a genetics professional in my area? (http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/consult/findingprofessional) in the Handbook.

 
Reviewed: December 2011
Published: October 20, 2014