VACTERL (or VATER as it is often referred to) is an acronym, not a disease or a syndrome. It is used to describe the types of anomalies (physical birth defects) children may have when they are born. Some children have the full spectrum of VACTERL, but a child with three or more problems in any combination may be recognized as fitting the VACTERL Association.

If a physician sees at least three anomalies that fit within the VACTERL Association, the doctor should know to look for other related problems. This is important because problems that are identified early can be treated with surgery, medicine, or therapies before the child has major complications. A child with VACTERL Association may be seen by several specialists and have several test done.

Examples of some of the anomalies that may occur are:

(V) – Vertebrae problems – abnormally formed vertebrae, tethered spinal cord, extra ribs, missing ribs and tailbone, etc.

(A) – Anal anomalies/rectal problems – no anal opening

(C) – Cardiac problems – minor to massive heart problems

(T) – Trachea (windpipe) – improper connections between trachea and esophagus

(E) – Esophagus – part of the esophagus connecting the mouth and stomach is missing

(R) – Renal (kidney) – abnormal kidney(s)

(L) – Limb – various hand, feet and leg problems, missing bone structures are common

The specific needs of each child who has VACTERL vary from child to child, as well as the severity of the anomalies.

While the majority of children with VACTERL Association have normal intelligence, they may have delayed growth and development in the early years.