Microcephaly: symptoms, characteristics and treatment

The nervous system is one of the first systems in our body to start developing during pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy and even throughout an individual’s life, this system will be altered and developed, especially from pregnancy to early adulthood.

However, in some cases, the brain does not develop as it should or at the usual rate since pregnancy, causing children to be born with heads that are much smaller than average in size, often linking this to the presence of different impairments and to a certain degree of Intellectual disability. This is called microcephaly.

    Microcephaly: concept and symptoms

    By microcephaly we mean the neonatal situation, condition or involvement in which the child’s skull and brain are clearly absent or delayed in development at birth or during the first years, compared to other individuals of the same age. It is a rare disease that can arise from different causes. The head circumference of a child with microcephaly is generally considered to be two to three standard deviations below average.

    While in some cases children with microcephaly may have a normative level of intelligence, this course usually affects with varying degrees of intellectual disability. Various alterations can also occur such as vision loss, feeding difficulties, general slowdown in development and seizures.

    Over time and depending on the little one, the face grows and the rest of the body develops, however the skull still does not grow. This is why these types of children usually have a sunken forehead and an elongated face.

    Usually this situation is detected throughout pregnancy, Or after the first few hours after delivery. However, sometimes it can take years for an atypical development to be identified, which is not evident in the first few months of life.

      Origin of this type of medical condition

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

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

      Another of the most common causes of microcephaly concerns transmission of various viruses from mother to fetus. Toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, rubella or the well-known Zika virus have been shown to cause damage to the fetus which can lead to microcephaly.

      In addition to this, pregnant women should take care of their health and treat conditions such as phenylketonuria or diabetes (Which, if left unchecked, can also impair fetal development due to the lack of certain nutrients). Likewise, certain drugs and the excessive use of alcohol can cause this alteration. Malnutrition also makes normal development of the future child difficult.

      Complications during childbirth

      Even if the development of the fetus is properly concluded, complications such as anoxia can occur during childbirth, which can impair the functioning and developmental capacity of the brain.

      Also, although in general the size of the skull increases throughout development due to the growth of the brain and the size of the second which causes the first to be smaller in case of microcephaly, there are cases in which a premature suture of the bones of the skull takes place which does not allow the brain to develop, medical condition known as craniosynostosis.


        Microcephaly he has no treatment that reverses this condition. The treatments carried out are based on occupational therapy, stimulation and educational practice. It is necessary and very useful to offer therapies focused on speech and psychomotor skills so that these children improve their basic skills, as well as to work on the emotional sphere of the child. It is about getting them to lead the best possible standard of living by optimizing their skills and exploiting their potential.

        Also, psychoeducation and counseling for the family and the immediate environment it is essential so that it can help the child to develop in the most adaptive way possible, while informing and allowing the expression of doubts and fears to the family.

        One of the conditions that can cause microcephaly is premature hardening of the bony plates of the skull or craniosynostosis, which prevents the growth and normative development of the brain by physically limiting it. This specific condition, if detected in time, yes it can be reversed by surgery, So that the harmful effects on the brain are avoided.

        Prevention is also essential. Consumption of drugs and certain substances by the mother, malnutrition, non-treatment of medical conditions such as phenylketonuria, or the transmission of certain viruses such as toxoplasmosis (which can be spread through cat feces or consumption of “ raw, spoiled or contaminated food) can be possible causes of microcephaly and, in some cases, can be avoided.

          Bibliographical references:

          • Kinsman, SL and Johnston, MV (2016). Congenital anomalies of the central nervous system. A: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Handbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.

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