A List of Agent Orange Birth Defects: How This Chemical Causes Genetic Defects

Page content

Agent Orange is the secret name given to a particular mixture of herbicides sprayed in Vietnam during the war from 1962 to 1971. US military men sprayed about 19 million gallons of Agent Orange together with other herbicides aiming to remove the thick tree leaves that serve as cover for the enemies. Several Vietnam veterans were out in the open when the herbicides were sprayed, thus leaving them unprotected with most of them developing several health complications.

Agent Orange Birth Defects

There is an extensive list of birth defects that have a strong or weak link with exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Listed below are the common genetic defects inherited by children or grand-children of those war veterans.


Anencephaly is a neural tube defect characterized by the absence of a part of the skull and the brain. It occurs when the neural tube fails to close.

The exact cause is unknown but it is frequently associated with exposure to environmental toxins and inadequate intake of folic acid during the first trimester of pregnancy. The distinct characteristics of a baby with this birth defect are the absence of the skull, the absence of a part of the brain, and the presence of facial deformities.

Down syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic defect that occurs after an extra copy of chromosome 21 was formed and in turn, causes changes in the normal development of the body and the brain. Physical signs that are common to all children with Down syndrome are a flat face, short neck, small ears, slanted eyes, one palmar crease and poor muscle tone.

The risk of having a child with Down syndrome increases with maternal age and history of Down syndrome in the family.


Hydrocephalus is the accumulation of CSF or cerebrospinal fluid inside the cranium which causes the brain to swell. There is an abnormal accumulation of CSF when there is an overproduction of CSF, or when the passageway of the fluid is disturbed or blocked.

The build-up then exerts pressure on the brain causing injury and eventually leads to the destruction of brain tissues. Both the young and old individuals can be affected by hydrocephalus.

In infants, common causes include CNS infection, brain hemorrhage, trauma to the child’s head, tumor in the CNS and prolonged exposure to teratogenic agents. Symptoms of hydrocephalus include sunset eyes, irritability, shrill cry, seizures and projectile vomiting.

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is another neural tube defect that results when the spinal cord fails to close during the early trimester of pregnancy. It often presents with nerve damage that leads to leg paralysis.

Other health problems associated with spina bifida are hydrocephalus, urinary problem, bowel problem and learning disability. If the mother fails to take in an adequate amount of folic acid during pregnancy, there is also an increasing tendency for the child to develop this defect.

Other Defects

Aside from these common birth defects, it was also found that several children of Vietnam war veterans also suffered from heart defects, urinary tract malformations, digestive tract defects, oral clefts and some neoplasms, like neuroblastoma.


publichealth.va.gov: Agent Orange

Vietnam Veterans of America: Agent Orange and Birth Defects