Child Health
Microcephaly

​Overview:

  • Microcephaly is a rare condition in which an infant's head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. Microcephaly is usually the result of the head developing abnormally during pregnancy or stopping to grow after birth.
  • The most reliable method of evaluating the growth of an infant’s head is by measuring its circumference 24 hours after birth. The measurements should continue throughout early childhood. 
  • As the baby gets older, s/he may get convulsive episodes and have intellectual disabilities and developmental delays.
  • There are no specific tests that can show whether or not a baby will be born with microcephaly; however, during the last three months of pregnancy, it can sometimes be detected with an ultrasound test.
  • There is no specific cure for microcephaly.

What is microcephaly?
Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy (congential) or has stopped growing after birth (acquired), which results in a smaller head size.

Severe microcephaly:
Severe microcephaly is a more serious, extreme form of this condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. Severe microcephaly can result because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy, or the brain started to develop correctly and then was damaged at some point during pregnancy.

Cause:
The causes of microcephaly in most babies are unknown. Some babies have microcephaly because of changes in their genes or exposure to harmful substances during fetal development.

Risk factors:
  • Contracting certain infections during pregnancy (e.g. rubella, toxoplasmosis, and Zika virus);
  • Severe malnutrition: Not getting adequate nutrition during pregnancy can affect your baby's development;
  • Exposure to harmful substances (e.g. drugs, alcohol or certain toxic chemicals in the womb);
  • Chromosomal abnormalities (e.g. Down syndrome);
  • Interruption of the blood supply to the baby’s brain during development.
  • Acquired microcephaly after birth may be caused by various brain injuries caused by hypoxia or infection.

Symptoms:
Many babies born with microcephaly may not show any other symptoms at birth. However, a child with microcephaly may suffer from a wide range of symptoms, including:
  • Epileptic seizures;
  • Developmental delay, such as: problems with speech or other developmental milestones (e.g. sitting, standing, and walking);
  • Intellectual disability (decreased ability to learn and function in daily life);
  • Problems with movement and balance;
  • Feeding problems (e.g. difficulty swallowing);
  • Hearing loss;
  • Vision problems.

When to see a doctor?
When you notice that the baby's head is smaller than normal or not growing as it should.

Diagnosis:
Microcephaly can be diagnosed during pregnancy or after the birth of a baby as follows:
  • During pregnancy:During pregnancy, microcephaly can sometimes be diagnosed with an ultrasound test. To see microcephaly during pregnancy, the ultrasound test should be done late in the 2nd trimester (at 28 weeks) or early in the third trimester.
  • After birth:To diagnose microcephaly after birth, a doctor will measure the head circumference of the baby during a physical exam within 24 hours after birth. The doctor may need to do special tests, such as an MRI. Babies with microcephaly often need routine check-ups to monitor their growth and development.

Treatment:
Microcephaly is a lifelong condition. There is no known cure or standard treatment for microcephaly. Babies with microcephaly will need care and treatment focused on helping help them improve and maximize their physical and intellectual abilities at home and in their community. This could be done through speech, occupational, and physical therapies. As these babies grow up, they will require frequent examinations and diagnostic tests by doctors to monitor head development, as well as their motor, social, intellectual and language skills.

Prevention:
  • Genetic counseling may help provide information on possible recurrences in the future and any available tests. 
  • During pregnancy, it is important to reduce the risk of complications by avoiding alcohol, drugs and other toxins. Pregnant mothers must also take preventive measures against chickenpox, rubella, cytomegalovirus and toxoplasmosis.
  • ​Expecting mothers or women trying to conceive are advised against traveling to areas where there are outbreaks of Zika virus.

FAQ:
  • Is there a link between a mother being infected with Zika virus and giving birth to a baby with microcephaly?
    • Yes, some babies with microcephaly have been reported among mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. Enough evidence has accumulated to conclude that Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.


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Last Update : 05 October 2020 05:11 AM
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