Disease at a Glance

Summary
Diethylstilbestrol syndrome (DES syndrome) refers to developmental or health problems caused by exposure to DES before birth (in utero), such as reproductive tract differences, infertility, and an increased risk for certain cancers. DES is a synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen that was prescribed to pregnant women between about 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage and premature labor. DES also may have been prescribed to women to inhibit lactation, as hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms, and as a post-coital emergency contraceptive ('morning-after pill'). It was first thought to be safe and effective, but studies later found that DES was not effective in preventing pregnancy complications, and caused health problems in some children of mothers exposed during pregnancy, as well as some of the women exposed during pregnancy or for other reasons. It is important to note that not all people exposed to DES have health problems due to the exposure. Females exposed to DES in utero may have reproductive tract differences affecting the uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, and/or vagina. Examples include incomplete development of the uterus or cervix, a differently-shaped uterus or cervix, and a transverse vaginal septum. These differences may increase the risk of infertility. Females exposed to DES in utero also are more likely to experience various pregnancy complications including ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and preterm birth. However, most have healthy babies. Additionally, females exposed in utero are at increased risk to develop cancers such as vaginal or cervical clear cell adenocarcinoma, squamous cervical cancer, and breast cancer. Males exposed to DES in utero have not been studied as extensively as females, but may be at increased risk for epididymal cysts, undescended testes, and inflammation or infection of the testicles. Males exposed to DES do not appear to have an increased risk of infertility. Of note, women exposed to DES after birth (those exposed while they were pregnant or those exposed for other reasons) have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The children of women exposed to DES in utero (grandchildren of mothers exposed during pregnancy) may also have an increased risk for cancer, as well as higher infertility rates. Women who took DES during pregnancy or for other reasons are encouraged to inform their doctors and children of the exposure, and children exposed in utero should inform their doctors so they can be monitored for possible health problems that may arise.
Estimated Number of People with this Disease

This section is currently in development.

What Information Does GARD Have For This Disease?

Many rare diseases have limited information. Currently GARD is able to provide the following information for this disease:

*Data may be currently unavailable to GARD at this time.
Categories
When do symptoms of this disease begin?
This section is currently in development. 

Symptoms

This section is currently in development. We recommend speaking with a doctor to learn more about this disease. 

Causes

This section is currently in development. 

Next Steps

Talking with the Medical Team

Good communication between the patient, family, and medical team can lead to an accurate diagnosis. In addition, health care decisions can be made together which improves the patient’s well-being and quality of life.

Describing Symptoms

Describe details about the symptoms. Because there may be many different causes for a single symptom, it is best not to make a conclusion about the diagnosis. The detailed descriptions help the medical provider determine the correct diagnosis.

To help describe a symptom:

  • Use a smartphone or a notebook to record each symptom before the appointment
  • Describe each symptom by answering the following questions:
    • When did the symptom start?
    • How often does it happen?
    • Does anything make it better or worse?
  • Tell the medical team whether any symptoms affect daily activities

Preparing for the First Visit

Working with a medical team to find a diagnosis can be a long process that will require more than one appointment. Make better health decisions by being prepared for the first visit with each member of the medical team.

    Make informed decisions about health care: 
    • Prepare a list of questions and concerns before the appointment
    • List the most important questions first, not all questions may be answered in the first visit
    • Ask questions about symptoms, possible diagnoses, tests, and treatment options
    For future appointments:
    • Discuss what was not addressed at the last visit
    • Discuss changes in the quality of life for the patient, family, and caregivers
    • Discuss health goals and other issues in the patient’s and family’s life that may affect the health care decisions
    Take notes during the appointments to help remember what was discussed.

    Last Updated: Nov. 8, 2021