Microcephaly – Causes, Symptoms, Life Expectancy,Pictures

Microcephaly can result due to a number of genetic and environmental reasons. Children affected by the condition generally experience developmental problems. Currently, there are no known ways to cure microcephaly, but early detection and intervention may lead to an improvement in the overall development of the affected child as well as enhancement of its quality of life.

Microcephaly Symptoms

  • The main symptom of microcephaly is the presence of a head size that substantially smaller as compared to the heads of other children of the same sex and age.
  • The head size is calculated on the basis of the distance around the top of the head of the affected child, i.e. the circumference. This measurement is then compared to the measurements of other normal children’s head sizes, in percentiles and with the aid of standardized growth charts. It may be noted that a few children naturally have small heads, which quantify in the 3rd, 2nd, or even 1st percentiles. Children affected by microcephaly have a head size that measures considerably lower than average, and on occasions even below the 1st percentile for the infant’s gender and age.
  • Children affected with serious microcephaly may also elicit a backward sloping forehead.

In a majority of the cases, microcephaly may be detected by a doctor at the time of the child’s birth, or during a routine checkup of the baby. However, if parents believe that their baby’s head is smaller than usual or is not growing at a usual pace, then they should consult a doctor.

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Some children affected with microcephaly may experience normal development and intelligence, but their head size will always be smaller in comparison to their sex and age. Also, as per the cause and severity of the condition, a number of complications such as those listed below may be observed:

  • Movement and speech delays in addition to other kinds of developmental delays
  • Seizures
  • Short stature or dwarfism
  • Hyperactivity
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Deformities of the face
  • Mental retardation

Causes of microcephaly

  • Microcephaly is normally caused due to abnormal development of the brain which can happen in the womb, i.e. congenital or can occur during infancy.

Other causes of microcephaly are listed below:

  • Craniosynostosis: It is a condition characterized by premature fusing of the sutures or the joints occurring between the bony plates that develop into the baby’s skull, and which in turn prevents the child’s brain from growing. It can only be treated via surgery which involves separation of the fused bones. In the absence of any pre-existing abnormalities of the brain, the surgical intervention generally leads to the creation of enough space for the brain to develop and grow.
  • Cerebral anoxia: It is a condition which refers to reduced flow of oxygen to the fetal brain and can occur due to some complications at the time of pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Down syndrome and other chromosomal anomalies may occasionally lead to microcephaly
  • Fetal infections at the time of pregnancy by different organisms such as cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, varicella or chickenpox, and rubella or German measles can result in microcephaly
  • The infant’s development can also be affected due to severe malnutrition at the time of pregnancy
  • Exposure of the fetus to alcohol, drugs or some kinds of toxins can increase the risk of the baby developing abnormalities of the brain.
  • Unregulated PKU or phenylketonuria in the expectant mother: It is a birth anomaly which impairs the capability of the body to break down or disintegrate the amino acid phenylalanine

Microcephaly treatment

  • There are currently no known methods that will reverse the adverse effects of microcephaly or aid in the enlargement of the affected infant’s head. The only known option is surgery to treat craniosynostosis, if detected early.
  • The treatment for microcephaly is therefore aimed at managing the effects of the condition in the child. The infant’s capabilities may be strengthened via early childhood intervention programs such as physical, speech and occupational therapy, etc.
  • Hyperactivity, seizures and other complication of microcephaly in the affected child may be treated with various drugs.

It is important to note that the presence of microcephaly in a child may create doubts about pregnancies in the future. Hence, it is important to consult with a doctor to understand the cause of the condition. If microcephaly has genetic causes, then the parents would need to seek the advice of a genetic counselor, so as to determine the chances of microcephaly in future births.

Microcephaly Life Expectancy

Children who are diagnosed with microcephaly have a lowered life expectancy rate. Due to the presence of a close co-relation between the prognosis and life expectancy of microcephaly, a poor prognosis indicates reduced life expectancy. A few doctors are of the opinion that with luck, microcephaly patients can potentially live for 20 to 35 years. Also, the life expectancy can be significantly increased with the right kind of support from doctors, family, society, etc.

Microcephaly Pictures

These are the ultrasound and MRI pictures

Microcephaly head circumference chart

Microcephaly in children – Pictures



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