Phocomelia (from Greek φώκη = "seal" plus μέλος (plural μέλεα) = "limb") is an extremely rare congenital disorder involving the limbs (dysmelia). Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire coined the term in 1836.
Although various numbers of factors can cause phocomelia, the prominent roots come from the drug use of thalidomide and from genetic inheritance. The occurrence of this malformation in an individual results in various abnormalities to the face, limbs, ears, nose, vessels and many other underdevelopments. The best fix for phocomelia is prevention of a pregnant woman taking thalidomide during pregnancy and prosthesis. Although operations can be done to fix the abnormality it is difficult due to the lack of nerves, bones, and other related structures.
Thalidomide was released into the market in 1957 in West Germany under the label of Contergan. Primarily prescribed as a sedative or hypnotic, thalidomide also claimed to cure “anxiety, insomnia, gastritis, and tension.” Afterwards it was used to combat against nausea and alleviate morning sickness in pregnant women. Thalidomide became an over the counter drug in Germany around 1960, and could be purchased without a prescription. Shortly after the drug’s selling, in Germany, between 5,000 and 7,000 infants were born with the qualities of phocomelia. Out of these children merely 40% of them survived. Research also proves that although phocomelia was non-existent through the 40’s and 50’s, by time the drug was released in Germany in the 60’s, cases of severe phocomelia amplified; the direct cause was linked to thalidomide. The statistic was given that “50 percent of the mothers with deformed children had taken thalidomide during the first trimester of pregnancy.” Throughout Europe, Australia, and the United States, 10,000 cases were reported of infants with phocomelia; only 50% of the 10,000 survived. Thalidomide became effectively linked to death or severe disabilities among babies. Those subjected to thalidomide while in the womb experienced limb deficiencies in a way that the long limbs either weren’t developed or presented themselves as stumps. Other effects included: deformed eyes, hearts, alimentary, and urinary tracts, along with blindness and deafness.
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