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Microcephaly: symptoms, characteristics and treatment

Microcephaly: symptoms, characteristics and treatment

April 29, 2024

The nervous system is one of the first systems of our body to begin to develop during pregnancy. Throughout the pregnancy and even throughout the individual's life this system is going to be modified and developed, especially from gestation to the beginning of adulthood.

However, in some cases the brain does not grow as it should or as quickly as usual since pregnancy, causing the birth of children with heads of a perimeter well below average, often linked to the presence of different alterations and a some degree of intellectual disability. This is what is known as microcephaly .

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Microcephaly: concept and symptoms

We understand as microcephaly the situation, condition or neonatal involvement in which the child's skull and brain show an absence or obvious developmental delay at birth or during the first years, compared to other individuals of the same age. It is a rare disorder that can come from different causes. It is generally considered that the cranial perimeter of a child with microcephaly is between two and three standard deviations below the mean.


Although in some cases children with microcephaly may have a level of normative intelligence, as a general rule this affectation occurs with a variable degree of intellectual disability . Various alterations can also occur, such as loss of vision, difficulties in feeding, generalized slowing of development and seizures.

With the passage of time and as the child grows the face and the rest of the body develop, but the skull is still not growing . Therefore, this type of infants usually have a sunken forehead and an elongated face.

Generally this situation is detected throughout pregnancy , or after the first hours after delivery. However, sometimes it may be years before an atypical development is identified, not being evident in the first months of life.


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Origin of this type of medical condition

There is no single cause that can generate microcephaly, but we can find different disorders and conditions that can generate it . Most of these are conditions and diseases that are produced or transmitted during the development of the fetus or during delivery.

Some disorders, mutations and genetic alterations can generate microcephaly. These include trisomies 18 (Edwards syndrome) and 21 (Down syndrome).

Other of the most frequent causes of microcephaly have to do with the transmission of various viruses by the mother to the fetus . Toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, rubella or the well-known Zika virus have been shown to cause alterations in the fetus that can lead to microcephaly.


In addition, pregnant women should take care of their health status and treat diseases such as phenylketonuria or diabetes (which if not controlled can also alter the development of the fetus due to the absence of certain nutrients). Of the same some drugs and the abusive use of alcohol can cause this alteration. Malnutrition also makes it difficult for the future child to develop normally.

Complications during childbirth

Even if the fetal development concludes adequately, complications such as anoxia can arise during delivery, which can alter the functioning and development capacity of the brain.

Also, although in general the size of the skull increases throughout development thanks to the growth of the brain, being the size of the second which generates that the first is smaller in cases of microcephaly, there are cases in which a suture occurs premature of the bones of the skull that do not allow the brain to grow, medical condition known as craniosynostosis .

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Treatment

The microcephaly does not have a treatment that reverses this condition . The treatments that are carried out are based on occupational therapy, stimulation and educational practice. It is necessary and very useful to offer therapies focused on speech and psychomotricity so that these children improve their basic skills, as well as work the emotional sphere of the child. It is about achieving that they can take the best possible level of life by optimizing their skills and exploiting their potential.

Likewise, psychoeducation and counseling to the family and the surrounding environment it is fundamental in order that it can help the child to develop in the most adaptive way possible, at the same time that it allows to grant information and allow the expression of doubts and fears to the family.

One of the conditions that can cause microcephaly is the premature hardening of the skull bone plates or craniosynostosis, which prevents the growth and normative development of the brain by physically limiting it. This concrete condition, if detected in time, yes, it can be reversed by surgery , so as to avoid harmful effects on the brain.

Prevention is also fundamental. The consumption of drugs and certain substances by the mother, malnutrition, the non-treatment of medical conditions such as phenylketonuria or the transmission of certain viruses such as toxoplasmosis (which can be spread through the stool of cats or consumption of uncooked food, in poor condition or contaminated) can be possible causes of the appearance of microcephaly, and in some cases can be avoided.

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Bibliographic references:

  • Kinsman, S.L. & Johnston, M.V. (2016). Congenital anomalies of the central nervous system. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.

Zika virus - causes, outbreak, symptoms & pathology (April 2024).


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