This rare skeletal dysplasia was first described in 1940 by Richard W. Ellis and Simon van Creveld who coined the term “Chondroectodermal dysplasia” to illustrate the main features of this condition: ectodermal involvement (skin, hair and nails) and chondrodysplasia (cartilage and bone anomalies) (2).
Recent studies have found that mutations in two nonhomologous genes, positioned in a head-to-head configuration along chromosome 4 (4p16), are responsible for EVC (3).
Ellis-Van Creveld Dysplasia is most common in the Amish people of Pennsylvania and the indigenous people of Western Australia. The incidence is estimated at 1 per 60,000 live births. More than 200 cases of EVC have now been reported (3).
Face and Skull
- dental abnormalities: natal teeth, partial or pseudocleft in the middle upper lip, small teeth and delayed eruption
Trunk, Chest and Spine:
- no significant trunk abnormalities
- no spinal malformation
- occasional short thorax at birth
- short and narrow rib cage
What Are the X-Ray Characteristics?
The radiographic features of EVC patients include progressive distal shortening of the long bones, with metaphyseal broadening. In infancy, pelvic dysplasia is common, along with low iliac wings and downward projections at the medial and lateral aspects of the acetabula. Pelvis configuration will normalize by childhood. Delayed ossification of the upper lateral portions of the proximal tibia will cause knock-knee. In young childhood, the epiphyseal ossification center is adjacent to the middle portion of the tibial metaphysis. Hypoplasia of the lateral epiphyses also occurs. The carpals are malformed, with fusion of the capitate and hamate. The middle phalanges are short and broad; hypoplasia of the distal phalanges is typical.
The condition can be diagnosed in the first trimester of pregnancy through an ultrasound scan looking for extra fingers or toes, cardiac defects, abnormalities of the kidneys and under-developed limbs. It has to be distinguished from related disorders such as Jeune Syndrome and the short-rib polydactyly syndromes. This could be possible only after birth. Radiographic features might also help with the diagnosis.
Polydactyly will oftentimes require surgery so that the extra digit(s) can be removed. The surgery may be a soft-tissue or bony procedure, depending upon the underlying pathology.
Progressive Genu Valgus
Progressive genu valgus will require careful follow-up in the longer term, usually at 6-month to yearly intervals. Supporting the knee in a corrective knee brace is the initial management, but bracing does not obviate the need for surgery.
Surgery is advised for angulations greater than 20 degrees (less if the deformity is progressive in a young child). The bony deformity is corrected by an osteotomy and the leg is placed in an external fixator until the osteotomy heals. Recurrence over time is common and several corrective procedures may be necessary during childhood for severe deformities.
In the older child nearing the end of growth, an alternative strategy is to slow down growth of the inner aspect of the tibia by a metal staple or stop growth completely by surgical removal of the growth plate. Elevating the under-developed part of the tibia has been performed in selected cases to restore knee alignment.
Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital heart defects are seen in about 60 percent of children. The most common are an atrial septal defect, a single atrium, and a ventricular septal defect. Assessment by a pediatric cardiologist soon after birth is strongly recommended. Cardiac surgery may be needed to correct the abnormalities. Nearly 50 percent of babies born with EVC will die due to cardiorespiratory complications.
Genitourinary anomalies include poor development of the penis and kidneys. Evaluation by a pediatric urologist is advised.
Teeth will appear early and may even be present at birth. They are small, peg-shaped and poorly formed. EVC patients are predisposed to dental cavities. Several abnormalities around the lips and gums have been described. Children with EVC would benefit from early referral to an orthodontist for surgical or prosthetic management of dental problems.
Congenital heart disease is common, therefore cardiologist consultation
Occasionally, abnormalities such as mental retardation, renal anomalies, Dandy-Walker cysts, hydrocephaly, situs inversus, and heterotopic masses of grey matter, have been reported.
Finally, generally all skeletal dysplasias warrant multidisciplinary attention. Regular assessment by an orthopedist, geneticist, pediatrician,
dentist, neurologist, and physical therapist will provide the most comprehensive treatment.
- Jones, Kenneth L. Recognizable Patterns of Human Malformation. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders. 2006.
- Scott, Charles I. Dwarfism. Clinical Symposium, 1988; 40(1):17-18.
- Spranger, Jurgen W. Brill, Paula W. Poznanski, Andrew. Bone Dysplasias: An Atlas of Genetic Disorder of Skeletal Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2002.
From Nemours' KidsHealth
Trusted External Resources
There's been a lot of discussion over the years about the proper way to refer to someone with dwarfism. Many people who have the condition prefer the term "little person" or "person of short stature." For some, "dwarf" is acceptable. For most, "midget" definitely is not.
But here's an idea everyone can agree on: Why not simply call a person with dwarfism by his or her name?
Being of short stature is only one of the characteristics that make a little person who he or she is. If you're the parent or loved one of a little person, you know this to be true.
Here are some facts that other people may not realize about dwarfism and those who have it.
- is characterized by short stature. Technically, that means an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches or under, according to the advocacy group Little People of America (LPA).
- can be caused by any one of more than 300 conditions, most of which are genetic. The most common type is called achondroplasia.
- can and most often does happen in families where both parents are of average height. In fact, 4 out of 5 of children with achondroplasia are born to average-size parents.
- an intellectual disability. A person who has dwarfism is typically of normal intelligence.
- a disease that requires a "cure." Most people with one of these conditions live long, fulfilling lives.
- a reason to assume someone is incapable. Little people go to school, go to work, drive cars, marry, and raise children, just like their average-size peers.
What Causes Short Stature?
More than 300 well-described conditions are known to cause short stature in a child. Most are caused by a spontaneous genetic change (mutation) in the egg or sperm cells prior to conception. Others are caused by genetic changes inherited from one or both parents.
Depending on the type of condition causing the short stature, it is possible for two average-size parents to have a child with short stature, and is also possible for parents who are little people to have an average-size child.
What prompts a gene to mutate is not yet clearly understood. The change is seemingly random and unpreventable, and can happen in any pregnancy. If parents have some form of dwarfism themselves, the odds are likely that their children will also be little people. A genetic counselor can help determine the likelihood of passing on the condition in these cases.
Dwarfism has other causes, including metabolic or hormonal disorders in infancy or childhood. Chromosomal abnormalities, pituitary gland disorders (which influence growth and metabolism), absorptive problems (when the body can't absorb nutrients adequately), and kidney disease can all lead to short stature if a child fails to grow at a normal rate.
Types of Short Stature
Most types of dwarfism are known as skeletal dysplasia, which are conditions of abnormal bone growth. They're divided into two types: short-trunk and short-limb dwarfism. People with short-trunk dwarfism have a shortened trunk with more average-sized limbs, whereas those with short-limb dwarfism have an average-sized trunk but shortened arms and legs.
By far, the most common skeletal dysplasia is achondroplasia, a short-limb dwarfism that happens in about 1 of every 15,000 to 40,000 babies born of all races and ethnicities. It can be caused by a spontaneous mutation in a gene called FGFR3, or a child can inherit a change in this gene from a parent who also has achondroplasia.
People with achondroplasia have a relatively long trunk and shortened upper parts of their arms and legs. They may share other features as well, such as a larger head with a prominent forehead, a flattened bridge of the nose, shortened hands and fingers, and reduced muscle tone. The average adult height for someone with achondroplasia is a little over 4 feet.
Diastrophic dysplasia is a different form of short-limb dwarfism. It happens in about 1 in 100,000 births, and is also sometimes associated with cleft palate, clubfeet, and ears with a cauliflower-like appearance. People who have this diagnosis tend to have shortened forearms and calves (this is known as mesomelic shortening).
Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasias (SED) refers to a group of various short-trunk skeletal conditions. Along with achondroplasia and diastrophic dysplasia, it is one of the more common types of dwarfism. In one type of SED, the lack of growth in the trunk area may not become apparent until the child is school age; other forms are apparent at birth. Kids with this disorder also might have clubfeet, cleft palate, and vision and/or hearing issues.
In general, dwarfism caused by skeletal dysplasias results in what is known as disproportionate short stature — meaning the limbs and the trunk are not of the same proportion as those of typically-statured people.
Metabolic or hormonal disorders typically cause proportionate dwarfism, meaning a person's arms, legs, and trunk are all shortened but remain in proportion to overall body size.
Some types of dwarfism can be identified through prenatal testing if a doctor suspects a particular condition and tests for it.
But most cases are not identified until after the child is born. In those instances, the doctor makes a diagnosis based on the baby's appearance, growth pattern, and X-rays of the bones. Depending on the type of dwarfism the child has, diagnosis often can be made almost immediately after birth.
Once a diagnosis is made, there is no "treatment" for most of the conditions that lead to short stature. Hormonal or metabolic problems may be treated with hormone injections or special diets to increase a child's growth, but skeletal dysplasias cannot be "cured."
People with skeletal dysplasias can, however, get medical care for some of the health complications associated with their short stature.
Some forms of dwarfism also involve issues in other body systems — such as vision or hearing — and require careful monitoring.
Possible Complications and Treatments
Short stature is the one quality all people with dwarfism have in common. After that, each of the many conditions that cause dwarfism has its own set of characteristics and possible complications.
Fortunately, many of these complications are treatable, so that people of short stature can lead healthy, active lives.
For example, a small percentage of babies with achondroplasia may have hydrocephalus (excess fluid around the brain). They may also have a greater risk of developing apnea (a temporary stop in breathing during sleep). This can be due to abnormally small bone anatomy or because of airway obstruction by the adenoids or the tonsils. Occasionally, a part of the brain or spinal cord is compressed. With close monitoring by doctors, however, these potentially serious problems can be detected early and surgically corrected.
As a child with dwarfism grows, other issues also may become apparent, including:
- development of some motor skills, such as sitting up and walking happening at older ages than an average-sized child
- a greater susceptibility to ear infections and hearing loss
- breathing problems caused by small chests
- weight problems
- curvature of the spine (scoliosis, kyphosis, and/or lordosis)
- bowed legs
- trouble with joint flexibility and early arthritis
- lower back pain or leg numbness
- crowding of teeth
Not every type of dwarfism has all of these problems associated with it, and proper medical care can help with many of them. Surgery also can be used to improve some of the leg, hip, and spine problems people with dwarfism sometimes face.
Nonsurgical options can help, too — for instance, excessive weight can worsen many orthopedic problems, so a dietitian might help develop a healthy plan for shedding extra pounds. And doctors or physical therapists can recommend ways to increase physical activity without putting extra stress on the bones and joints.
Helping Your Child
Although types of dwarfism, and their severity and complications, vary from person to person, in general a child's life span is not affected by dwarfism. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of people with dwarfism, many members of the short-statured community don't feel that they have a disability.
You can help your child with dwarfism lead the best life possible by building his or her sense of independence and self-esteem right from the start.
Here are some general tips to keep in mind:
- Treat your child according to his or her age and developmental level, and not size. For example, a 2-year-old should not still be using a bottle, even if he or she is the size of a 1-year-old. And, if you expect a 6-year-old to clean up his or her room, don't make an exception simply because your child is small.
- Adapt to your child's limitations. Something as simple as a light switch extender and a well-placed step stool can give a short-statured child a sense of independence around the house.
- Present your child's condition — both to your child and to others — as a difference rather than a hindrance. Your attitude and expectations can have a significant influence on your child's self-esteem.
- Learn to outwardly deal with people's reactions, whether it's simple curiosity or outright ignorance, without anger. Address questions or comments as directly as possible, then take a moment to point out something special about your child. If your child is with you, this approach shows that you notice all the other qualities that make him or her unique and, importantly, that his or her dwarfism doesn't cause you any anger. It also helps prepare your child for dealing with these situations when you're not there.
- If your child is teased at school, don't overlook it. Talk to teachers and administrators to make sure your child is getting the support he or she needs.
- Encourage your child to find a hobby or activity to enjoy. If sports aren't going to be your child's thing, then maybe music, art, computers, writing, or photography will be.
- Finally, get involved with support associations like the Little People of America. Getting to know other people with dwarfism — both as peers and mentors — can show your child just how much he or she can achieve.
Reviewed by: Angela L. Duker, MS, CGC
Date reviewed: April 28, 2017