What is microcephaly?
Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. During pregnancy, a baby’s head grows because the baby’s brain grows. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, which results in a smaller head size. Microcephaly can be an isolated condition, meaning that it can occur with no other major birth defects, or it can occur in combination with other major birth defects.
How common is microcephaly?
Microcephaly is a rare condition. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of microcephaly?
Children with a mild case may have a small head but no other problems. Your child’s head will grow as he gets older. But it will remain smaller than what’s considered normal.
Some children have normal intelligence. Others have problems learning, but they usually don’t get worse as your child gets older.
Other symptoms may include:
- Balance and coordination problems
- Developmental delays (delayed sitting, standing, walking)
- Trouble swallowing and problems with feeding
- Hearing loss
- Hyperactivity (trouble paying attention or sitting still)
- Short height
- Speech problems
- Vision problems
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Chances are your doctor will detect microcephaly at the baby’s birth or at a regular well-baby checkup. However, if you think your baby’s head is smaller than normal or isn’t growing as it should, talk to your doctor.
What causes microcephaly?
Microcephaly usually is the result of abnormal brain development, which can occur in the womb (congenital) or during infancy. Microcephaly may be genetic. Other causes may include:
- The premature fusing of the joints (sutures) between the bony plates that form an infant’s skull keeps the brain from growing. Treating craniosynostosis usually means your infant needs surgery to separate the fused bones. If there are no underlying problems in the brain, this surgery allows the brain adequate space to grow and develop.
- Chromosomal abnormalities. Down syndrome and other conditions may result in microcephaly.
- Decreased oxygen to the fetal brain (cerebral anoxia). Certain complications of pregnancy or delivery can impair oxygen delivery to the fetal brain.
- Infections of the fetus during pregnancy. These include toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, German measles (rubella) and chickenpox (varicella).
- Exposure to drugs, alcohol or certain toxic chemicalsin the womb. Any of these put your baby at risk of brain abnormalities.
- Severe malnutrition. Not getting adequate nutrition during pregnancy can affect your baby’s development.
- Uncontrolled phenylketonuria, also known as PKU, in the mother. PKU is a birth defect that hampers the body’s ability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine.
What increases my risk for microcephaly?
There is no information available. Please consult with your doctor for medical advice.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is microcephaly diagnosed?
To determine whether your child has microcephaly, your doctor likely will take a thorough prenatal, birth and family history and do a physical exam. He or she will measure the circumference of your child’s head, compare it with a growth chart, and remeasure and plot the growth at future visits. Parents’ head sizes also may be measured to determine whether small heads run in the family.
In some cases, particularly if your child’s development is delayed, your doctor may request tests such as a head CT scan or MRI and blood tests to help determine the underlying cause of the delay.
How is microcephaly treated?
There’s no cure for microcephaly, but there are treatments to help with development, behavior, and seizures.
If your child has mild microcephaly, he’ll need regular doctor checkups to monitor how he grows and develops.
Children who have more severe cases need lifelong treatment to control symptoms. Some, like seizures, can be life-threatening. Your doctor will discuss treatments to keep your child safe and improve his quality of life.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage microcephaly?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with microcephaly:
- Find a team of trusted professionals. You’ll need to make important decisions about your child’s education and treatment. Create a team of doctors, teachers and therapists and other professionals who can help you evaluate the resources in your area and explain state and federal programs for children with disabilities.
- Medical specialties your child might require include pediatrics and developmental pediatrics, infectious diseases, neurology, ophthalmology, genetics and psychology.
- Seek other families who are dealing with the same issues. Your community might have support groups for parents of children with developmental disabilities. You might also find online support groups.
Learning your child has microcephaly can raise questions about future pregnancies. Work with your doctor to determine the cause of the microcephaly. If the cause is genetic, you and may want to talk to a genetics counselor about the risk of microcephaly in future pregnancies.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: June 29, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019
Microcephaly. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/microcephaly/en/. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Facts about Microcephaly. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/microcephaly.html. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Microcephaly. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/microcephaly/basics/definition/con-20034823. Accessed June 29, 2017.
What Is Microcephaly? http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/what-is-microcephaly#1-2. Accessed June 29, 2017.