Microcephaly is a rare condition in which the head of infant is much smaller in size as compared to other children of same age. The word ‘micro’ in English means ‘small’ and the meaning of ‘cephaly’ in Greek is ‘head’.
Normally when the baby is in womb, the head grows as the brain start growing. But in microcephaly the brain may have stopped its normal development in the womb or it may have stopped to grow after birth during infancy. This will cause a small sized head. This abnormality may be genetically associated or may be acquired.
Due to small sized brain, the child may have problems in normal development and intelligence. There is no cure for microcephaly. Treatment consists of supportive therapy which will help to improve daily life of the child.
What Causes Microcephaly In Infants?
In majority cases of microcephaly the cause remains unclear. Generally the underlying cause may have a genetic association or it may be acquired.
Congenital microcephaly occurs due to defect in the genes. There is family history of this neurological condition. The defect lies in the gene which is responsible for brain development. Children suffering from Down syndrome are known to have microcephaly.
In acquired microcephaly, the brain of infant may have stopped growing and developing if it has come in contact with some harmful substance. The damage may have taken place in womb or after birth. Acquired microcephaly can develop if the mother during her pregnancy period may have suffered from viral infection such as rubella, chickenpox, or Zica virus. The woman during her pregnancy may have suffered from parasitic infections such as toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus.
Abuse of alcohol, illegal drugs, exposure to toxic chemicals such as lead during pregnancy can also lead to microcephaly in the infant. Any obstruction of blood supply to the fetal or infant brain can affect the development of brain. Brain injury after birth, stroke, or any defect in the spine can also cause microcephaly.
Signs And Symptoms Of Microcephaly In Infants
Microcephaly can be mild or severe. The symptoms may vary in both the forms. If the head size is slightly small the child may not have any major symptoms. Gradually over a period of time as the child grows, the head circumference may grow. But still the head will be small in comparison to the normal size head of other children of his age and gender.
Infant with microcephaly will present with following symptoms:
- Difficulty in co-ordination and balance.
- Delayed speech and other milestones such as walking, standing, dentition etc.
- The height of these children is too short.
- Deafness and vision problems.
- Distorted face
- They are hyperactive
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Low intelligence
Treatment Options For Microcephaly
Microcephaly is incurable condition. There is no such treatment that can correct and modify the size of child’s head to a normal size and shape. If the child has mild form of microcephaly, he will not experience any major symptoms besides the structural change in his head. Such infants are carefully monitored for their growth and development of their intelligence.
For more severe cases where the child suffers from various problems such as seizure, balancing problem, vision and hearing loss, he may need special attention and therapies. Early intervention of speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy will enable the child to live a better and life.
Anti epileptic medicines may be needed to treat seizures. Medicines may be required to control hyperactivity of the child and any neuromuscular problems.
Babies born with mild microcephaly often have a normal life span. But babies having severe microcephaly usually cannot survive infancy.