Microcephaly Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

What is Microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a condition in which a person's head size is much smaller than that of others of the same age and sex. Head size is measured as the distance around the top of the head. A smaller than normal size is determined using standardized charts.

Microcephaly Causes

Microcephaly most often occurs because the brain does not grow at a normal rate. The growth of the skull is determined by brain growth. Brain growth takes place while a baby is in the womb and during infancy.

Conditions that affect brain growth can cause smaller than normal head size. These include infections, genetic disorders, and severe malnutrition.

Genetic conditions that cause microcephaly include:

Other problems that may lead to microcephaly include:

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Microcephaly symptoms vary by case. Some children with microcephaly do not experience much difficulty in their daily lives. However, others suffer from learning disabilities, impaired motor functions, or other medical issues.
Most often, microcephaly is diagnosed at birth or during routine well-baby exams. Talk to your health care provider if you think your infant's head size is too small or not growing normally.

Most of the time, microcephaly is discovered during a routine exam. Head measurements are part of all well-baby exams for the first 18 months. Tests take only a few seconds while the measuring tape is placed around the infant's head.

The health care provider will keep a record of the following to determine a microcephaly diagnosis:

  • What is the head circumference?
  • Is the head growing at a slower rate than the body?
  • What other symptoms are there?

It may also be helpful to keep your own records of your baby’s growth. Talk to your health care provider if you notice that the baby’s head growth seems to be slowing down.

Microcephaly prognosis varies by case and depends on other medical conditions. While there is no specific microcephaly treatment, medication and therapy can help development.

Treatment Options

The Neurogenetics/Metabolic Program (part of the nationally recognized Nicklaus Children's Brain Institute®) is the only program in the state with dedicated multidisciplinary team providing comprehensive care for children with complex neurogenetic/metabolic disorders. The program provides screening, early intervention and quaternary treatments including critical care and clinical trials.
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The Craniofacial Center at Nicklaus Children's Hospital is Florida’s only specialty center for children with craniofacial disorders. The center will provide comprehensive evaluation and management of all congenital and acquired craniofacial anomalies.
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Kinsman SL, Johnston MV. Congenital anomalies of the central nervous system. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 585.10.