Sex differences in the prevalence of several human birth defects have often been reported in the literature, but the extent of sex differences for most birth defects is unknown. To determine the full extent of sex differences in birth defects in a population, we examined population-based data from the Metropolitan Atlanta Congenital Defects Program (MACDP).
MACDP records were analyzed for 1968 through 1995. We determined the sex-specific prevalence of all major birth defects, using the total number of live births by sex during these years as the denominator. For each specific defect, we calculated a relative risk with regard to sex on the basis of the ratio of prevalence among males to prevalence among females. Male–female relative risks were also determined for total major birth defects and for several broad categories of defects.
The overall prevalence of major defects at birth was 3.9% among males and 2.8% among females. All but two of the major categories of birth defects (nervous system defects and endocrine system defects) had a higher prevalence among males. Defects of the sex organs were eight and one-half times more prevalent among males and accounted for about half of the increased risk of birth defects among males relative to females. Urinary tract defects were 62% more prevalent among males, and gastrointestinal tract defects were 55% more prevalent among males. Among specific defect types, twofold or greater differences in prevalence by sex were common.
Our data indicate that sex differences in the prevalence of specific human birth defects are common, and male infants are at greater risk for birth defects than female infants. Several mechanisms have been proposed to account for these differences. Teratology 64:237–251, 2001. Published 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.