Also known as: meningoencephalocele, cephalocele.

What are encephaloceles and meningoceles?

An encephalocele is a rare disorder (neural tube defect) where the bones of a fetus’s skull (anywhere from the nose to the back of the head) do not close all the way resulting in a space through which the tissues surrounding the brain (cerebrospinal fluid and meninges) and brain tissue itself bulges.

A meningocele is like an encephalocele but only contains the cerebrospinal fluid and meninges and the sac protrudes from the spinal column.

What causes encephalocele or meningocele?

The exact causes are unknown, however there appears to be an inherited component as it can occur in families, and it seems likely that environmental toxins that a mother is exposed to, may also play a role.

What are the signs/symptoms of encephalocele and meningoceles? 

Encephaloceles are usually found after birth and while some may be quite small, if large they may be life threatening.

Babies may be born with:

  • small heads
  • too much fluid in the brain
  • poor arm and leg strength
  • vision problems
  • intellectual and developmental delays
  • seizures
  • poor coordination
  • and other symptoms

Meningoceles are typically diagnosed before birth.

What are the care options for encephalocele or meningocele?

Both encephaloceles and meningoceles are treated with surgery (more than one surgery may be needed). Long term neurological rehabilitation is usually necessary.

Fetal Care Services and Brain Institute Teams at Nicklaus Children's Hospital

Fetal Care Services at Nicklaus Children’s are devoted to the care of infants prediagnosed with medical needs in utero that will require intervention at birth. In collaboration with the Brain Institute’s Division of Neurosurgery, they offer the best possible care and outcomes for patients.

The Nicklaus Children's multidisciplinary team of pediatric subspecialists including pediatric surgeons, ob/gyns, neonatologists, cardiologists and other specialists collaborate with prenatal care providers in the community and beyond to provide families comprehensive, coordinated care and support from prenatal testing to delivery, postnatal care and the transition to infant care.

Reviewed by: John Ragheb, MD

This page was last updated on: March 30, 2023 03:50 PM

Fetal Care Services

The Fetal Care Service team offers support to families expecting an infant with medical needs that require intervention at birth. We provide comprehensive, coordinated care from prenatal diagnosis to the transition to infant care.

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