Microcephaly is an unusual neurological condition wherein an infant’s head develops abnormally and is considerably smaller compared to the heads of other infants, belonging to the same sex and age. This defect can be sometimes detected at birth. It develops as a result of abnormal brain growth of the fetus inside the womb or the brain not developing upto its proper size as it should prior to birth.
The affected infant’s head size is way too smaller than expected. This can be explained as follows; during pregnancy, an infant’s head grows due to the growing size of the brain. In microcephaly, the baby’s head ceases to grow because either his/her brain fails to develop properly inside the womb during pregnancy or ceases to grow after birth thereby resulting in a smaller sized head.
This rare disease can be the result of various genetic and/or environmental factors. Other causes for the occurrence of Microcephaly include:
- Craniosynostosis: premature fusion of sutures or joints between bony plates forming a baby’s skull inhibits the brain from developing or growing. To treat Craniosynostosis, the baby needs to undergo surgery to separate fused bones. Successful surgery without any underlying problems gives the brain sufficient space to develop and grow.
- Chromosomal abnormalities: Down’s syndrome and related conditions might result in microcephaly.
- Cerebral anoxia: Sometimes complications in pregnancy or delivery might impede with oxygen delivery to fetal brain.
- Fetal infections during pregnancy: infections like toxoplasmosis, chickenpox (varicella), German measles (rubella), and cytomegalovirus can lead to microcephaly.
- Exposure to alcohol, drugs or other toxic chemicals within the womb: increases fetus’ risk of microcephaly.
- Severe malnutrition: getting inadequate nutrition can affect fetus’ development in the womb.
Microcephaly can either be an isolated state meaning it occurs without causing any other kind of major birth defect, or can occur coupled with some major birth defects. Infants having this disease often suffer from developmental issues. Till present, there exists no treatment for microcephaly, but if detected early at birth, then certain aids like supportive therapies like speech and professional therapies can help augment the affected child’s development as well as improve his or her quality of life.
Certain children with microcephaly show normal development and intelligence although their head remains smaller than children of similar sex and age. However, depending on severity and cause of microcephaly, complications include delays in development of speech and movement, difficulty or slow rate of learning and functioning in daily life, difficulty in balancing and coordination, dwarfism, facial distortions, problems with swallowing food, hearing loss, vision problems, exhibiting hyperactivities, mental retardation and seizures.
Microcephaly – Pictures
What are its primary Signs?
Some crucial or key signs of microcephaly includes; the affected child having head size considerably smaller compared to that of children being born normal and belonging to the same gender and age. So how does one conclude the head size? Head size can be measured as distance round the top portion of the infant’s head or the circumference. A standardized growth chart is used for the measurement of the affected child’s head and then compared with that of other children’s head measurements. This is then expressed in percentiles. The head size of some children is just small, as in they have just small heads, their measurement falling as low as first percentile. But, for children having microcephaly condition, their head size measurement falls significantly below average percentile, which might be even lesser than the baby of same age and sex whose measurement was as low as first percentile.
What is severe microcephaly?
Severe microcephaly stands as a more severe condition, an extreme condition in which a baby’s head turns out to be way smaller than expected. This can be the case when the brain has not developed accurately or on a whole, stops developing inside the womb. It can also happen due to some injuries, for instance the brain had started developing normally but suffered some damage at some point through pregnancy. A child with severe microcephaly may even develop a backwardly sloping forehead.
Microcephaly – Life Expectancy
Microcephaly is a rare condition. One statistical birth defect tracking record in the United States showed that childbirth ranging from 2 to about 12 babies per 10,000 live births maybe born with microcephaly or unusually small head.
Life expectancy of children with microcephaly is usually low. However, the exact lifespan of these babies varies based on presence of any kinds of associated abnormalities. Though people born with this condition die before they turn 1, others live up to 35 years and more. The average life expectancy for microcephaly is 10 years.
The prognosis is such that around 10 to 12 percent of children born with Microcephaly have normal intelligence. Most children have issues with walking, communicating, coordination and speech issues; and need constant attention and care. Some of the intervention programs like occupational therapy, speech assistance and special needs help can provide some help.
Microcephaly and Zika
The worst nightmare of pregnant women has come true. Researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated with evidence that Zika virus is responsible for brain abnormalities in fetus. Although this fatal virus is usually transmitted through mosquito bites but studies show that it can also be transmitted sexually. The Centre found Zika virus in the amniotic fluid, spinal fluid, and brain tissues of microcephaly babies.