It can be very confusing for individuals trying to gain an understanding of illnesses, conditions, abnormalities and disorders to understand the difference between a congenital illness or condition and a hereditary or genetic condition or disease. While both may seem as though they are present from birth, it actually does make a difference how and when an illness, disease or condition is contracted as to whether it is considered hereditary or congenital.
A hereditary condition is one that is genetically predetermined. It is dependent on the genetic material or chromosomes that a person inherits from one or both biological parents. Colorblindness an d Sickle Cell Anemia are two hereditary conditions that are passed on to a fetus from the genes of the mother and father. A person may also be a “carrier” of an illness, disease or condition without actually having the condition. With some diseases, if a person only inherits the trait from one parent, they are said to have a recessive trait. While for some conditions, it only takes inheriting it from one parents, for others it takes inheriting the trait from both parents in order for the condition to develop.
To further complicate things, some illnesses and conditions are deemed hereditary – such as some mental illnesses and diabetes, but just having a predisposition for the illness does not necessarily mean it will develop. A person who’s parents are diabetic, may be more genetically likely to develop the disease but due to lifestyle choices, overall health, etc. may not actually develop diabetes. This person may still pass the predisposition onto his or her children, however, through genetics.
A congenital condition is one that develop not from the family history or genetics, but from influences which occur while the child is still in-utero. At various stages of fetal development, the fetus may be sensitive or at risk for abnormalities and disabilities – such as congenital heart and other organ defects. Whether due to environmental factors, the health or condition of the mother, or for unknown reasons, a fetus may develop an illness, disease, condition or other abnormality that will be present when he or she is born.
A congenital condition cannot be passed on from parent to child. If a child is born with a congenital defect – even one that is rather severe – if he or she can otherwise procreate, the likelihood is that a normal child will result. Whereas with a hereditary or genetic abnormality, it may very well be passed on from generation to generation.