Microcephaly is a very rare disorder of the central nervous system where the head of a newborn baby is prominently smaller in size when compared to other infants of the same age. In some cases, the head ceases to grow in size after birth.
The primary reason behind microcephaly in infants is abnormal growth and development of the head of the baby, when present in the mother’s womb.
Children with microcephaly often face other developmental issues as they grow up, such as seizures, delay in speech and movement. Microcephaly, essentially a neurological condition, even hampers their abilities of cognitive thinking, memory and concentration. Also Read: Lowering Fever Can Prevent Febrile Seizures In Kids
Although there is no treatment available for microcephaly yet, the quality of life of the child can be significantly improved, with supportive treatment, speech therapy and advise from neurological experts.
The exact cause of microcephaly still remains unknown, but certain illnesses predispose a baby to acquire the disease either before birth or in the first few years of their lives. These include:
- Genetic or chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome
- Infections during pregnancy, such as rubella, toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, chickenpox
- Severe malnutrition
- Craniosynostosis, or premature fusing of the skull suture line
- Cerebral anoxia, a condition involving a decrease in oxygen delivery to the brain of a fetus
- Maternal uncontrolled phenylketonuria (PKU), a congenital anomaly that restricts the body’s ability to break down a specific amino acid
- Environmental factors, such as exposure to potent drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other toxins while the foetus is still in the mother’s womb
The characteristic symptoms displayed by a newborn baby with microcephaly consist of the following:
- Delayed development, such as learning to speak, stand, sit, or walk at a later age than other children at a similar stage
- Learning difficulties such as dyslexia
- Movement and balance issues
- A high-pitched cry
- Issues with feeding, such as dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing
- Hearing loss
- Reduced vision
- Distorted facial features and expressions
- Very short height
To determine whether the child has microcephaly, the brain doctor or neurologist will take a thorough prenatal, birth and family history and do a physical exam.
He or she will measure the circumference of the 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 the child's development is delayed, the doctor may suggest taking additional tests such as a head CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and blood tests to help establish the underlying cause of the delay.
No treatment or cure is currently available for microcephaly. Instead, treatment focuses on managing the condition and relieving linked health problems, such as Down syndrome. If an ongoing process is contributing to the microcephaly, such as malnutrition, healthcare professionals will also address this. Also Read: Down Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Infants with mild microcephaly typically only require routine check-ups. However, those with a more severe form of the condition may require early childhood intervention programs to strengthen their physical and intellectual capabilities. These programs will often include speech, physical, and occupational therapies.
A condition called craniosynostosis can cause microcephaly. In cases of craniosynostosis, the joints between the bones of an infant skull fuse together prematurely, preventing the brain from growing fully. However, this condition is rectified with surgery that helps reshape the skull.