Dysplasia is a broad term that refers to the abnormal development of cells within tissues or organs. It can lead to a wide range of conditions that involve enlarged tissue or pre-cancerous cells.
Developmental dysplasia is common in children and can affect many parts of the body, including the skeleton. When adults have dysplasia, it usually means there is an increase in abnormal cell growth, for example, in pre-cancer.
Different types of dysplasia have different risk factors. Unfortunately, it is not possible to prevent all types of dysplasia but avoiding some risk factors may help in some cases.
Dysplasia can occur in any area of the body. It can also accompany other disorders. There are hundreds of different types of dysplasia.
We outline some of the most common forms of dysplasia in children and adults below.
Dysplasia in children usually affects the child’s development. It can be present even before the child is born. Early diagnosis can lead to quick treatment in many cases.
Some children have a condition called hip dysplasia or developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).
This either means that:
- the hip joint is in the wrong shape
- the hip socket is not in the correct place to cover and support the leg bone
The result is more wear and tear on every part of the hip joint.
According to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), the child may have:
- legs of different lengths
- an unusual gait
- less flexibility on one side
Treatment may include the use of a harness or surgery. Newborns and infants up to 6 months may need to wear a soft harness for up to 3 months to keep the hip in place. This is successful in most cases.
However, if this does not work, a doctor may recommend a brace, which is made of firmer material.
Sometimes the doctor will need to gently reposition the child’s thighbone before applying a body cast. Infants between 6 months and 2 years old may also require a cast after repositioning of the thighbone. Occasionally, a child will need open surgery to put the bone back in the socket.
Skeletal dysplasia is responsible for many disorders, including bone deformities, growth deficiency and very short stature..
There are over 350 disorders of the skeleton that are classed as dysplasia. They result from a genetic mutation. Diagnosis usually happens before birth or in infancy.
Ectoderma dysplasias affect the skin, hair, nails, and sweat glands.
According to the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasias (NFED), there are over 150 types of ectodermal dysplasia.
Some may be visible at birth, but it may take years to get a correct diagnosis for other types.
Ectodermal dysplasias are hereditary. Parents can pass the genetic changes on to their children.
In adults, dysplasia usually refers to the abnormal growth of cells or tissues. When these cells continue to grow, they can create tumors.
Dysplasia can affect any number of tissues in the body, but some forms are more common than others.
Cervical dysplasia refers to abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix.
There are two types:
- Low-grade cervical dysplasia: This type progresses slowly and often gets better on its own.
- High-grade cervical dysplasia: This type can lead to cervical cancer.
Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) is a type of dysplasia in the marrow of the bones. In some cases, it can lead to leukemia.
This abnormal growth can mean that the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells for normal bodily functions.
According to the MDS Foundation, it can affect younger people, but it usually occurs in older adults, and especially those aged over 65 years.
Hip dysplasia in adults
People who have a diagnosis of hip dysplasia as adults have most likely had the condition since childhood.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute estimate 35,000 that hip replacements each year are due to hip dysplasia.
The causes of dysplasia are complex and we do not fully understand them.
Some types, such as skeletal and ectodermal dysplasia, stem from mutations in the DNA of a developing fetus. What causes the mutations is unclear, however.
For dysplasia in adults, there may also be a connection with diet, but research has not confirmed this.
Read on to find out more about some possible risk factors for specific types of dysplasia.
According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, hip dysplasia is up to 12 times more likely when there is a family history of it.
Hip dysplasia has also been linked to:
- being female
- improper swaddling of infants
- the baby being breech
While genes appear to play a role, they may not be a direct cause. Genetic factors may make a person more susceptible, but it may be environmental factors that lead to symptoms in those people.
Cervical dysplasia can lead to cervical cancer. Scientists are trying to understand what causes it.
The immune system may also play a role. People with a weakened immune system may have a higher risk of cervical dysplasia.
Also, cervical fluids from smokers can contain high concentrations of chemicals from cigarette smoke.
Authors of a study published in 2008 suggested that this may increase the risk of these cells becoming abnormal.
Treatment with radiation and chemotherapy can lead to MDS.
People who receive these types of treatment may have a higher risk of developing MDS for up to 10 years after.
Dysplasia can affect many areas of the body, and symptoms depend on the type of dysplasia.
Identifying symptoms correctly can mean a faster diagnosis and a better chance of effective treatment.
Cervical dysplasia: There are usually no symptoms. Genital warts are a symptom of exposure to HPV, but this is a different type of HPV than the one that is linked to dysplasia. Cervical dysplasia may show up during a Pap test. This does not mean a person has cancer, but cancer could develop in the future.
Hip dysplasia: The most common sign of hip dysplasia is hip pain. There may also be a snapping noise in the hip or aching pain in the groin that lasts for months.
MDS: There may be no symptoms, but a routine blood test may show a low red cell count, platelet count, or white blood cell count.
Ectodermal dysplasia: The different types of ectodermal dysplasia affect the hair, teeth, nails, skin, and sweat glands in different ways. Symptoms can include brittle hair, abnormal teeth, discolored toenails, and dry, scaly skin.
Skeletal dysplasia: In dwarfism, a person may have short stature or slow growth, an unusually large head, short limbs, joint stiffness, curved bones, and crowded teeth. Other types affect the body in different ways.
Diagnosis and treatment will depend on the type of dysplasia. Most treatments focus on reducing the symptoms, and some are specific to the type of dysplasia.
Some common treatments are listed below.
Skeletal dysplasia treatment
A person with this condition may have the following options:
- growth hormones
- braces to improve teeth crowding
- back braces to improve spine curvature
Ectodermal dysplasia treatment
- practicing regular dental hygiene
- using topical creams for skin symptoms
- applying antibacterial scalp treatments
- using saline sprays for a dry nose or eye drops for eyes
Cervical dysplasia treatment
Popular surgical treatments include:
- laser surgery to destroy abnormal cervical tissue
- cryocauterization, which uses extremely cold temperatures to destroy abnormal cells
- loop electrosurgical excision (LEEP), in which a doctor uses a thin loop wire to scrape away visible abnormal cells in the cervix
The person should discuss how each option might affect their fertility, and ways to resolve this problem if they still hope to have children in the future. This could include freezing eggs.
Stem cell transplant is the only available treatment for MDS.
If this is not an option, the person may have access to supportive methods such as blood transfusions and blood cell growth factors.
The following may reduce the chance of developing some avoidable types of dysplasia:
- maintaining a healthful diet and lifestyle
- avoiding smoking tobacco or cigarettes
However, dysplasia covers a range of conditions, and some of these can have genetic causes.
There is no evidence to support any lifestyle or other changes that might reduce the risk of dysplasia.
I recently had a Pap smear and it showed that I have abnormal cells. How worried should I be?
There are different types of abnormal cells that can show up on a pap smear.
The low-grade ones do not necessarily progress, but the higher-grade ones can do so.
The other main issue is the HPV virus. Certain types of HPV have a higher risk of progressing to cancer.
The main thing is to see your gynecologist to discuss your options and find out exactly what kind of abnormal cells you have and also what they recommend you do to treat them or if they recommend just monitoring you.
Suzanne Falck, MD, FACP Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.