Definition of phocomelia in US English:



  • A rare congenital deformity in which the hands or feet are attached close to the trunk, the limbs being grossly underdeveloped or absent. This condition was a side effect of the drug thalidomide taken during early pregnancy.

    • ‘The most well-known defect, a severe shortening of the arms or legs with flipper-like hands or feet, is called phocomelia.’
    • ‘Babies were born with hands and feet attached directly to the body, a condition known as phocomelia.’
    • ‘Cases of phocomelia in the early 1960's in Germany and Australia led to the identification of thalidomide as a human teratogen.’
    • ‘The correlation between those taking thalidomide in the crucial period and the incidence of phocomelia became more evident, and the drug was withdrawn in 1961.’
    • ‘This was in spite of such FDA victories as the ban of thalidomide, which caused phocomelia in more than 8000 babies in Europe, where the drug was freely used.’


Late 19th century: modern Latin, from Greek phōkē ‘seal’ + melos ‘limb’.