What is Microcephaly?

When babies are born with Microcephaly their head is smaller in size and their brain is often not completely developed. Since this is a disorder of the nervous system, it occurs when the brain fails to grow while the baby is inside the womb.

Additional issues that impact a child’s development and skills may also be present at birth. The cause of this disorder can be linked genetically or it can be acquired if an unborn baby is exposed to something harmful that caused an impairment with the brain. Acquired microcephaly can be caused by certain viral and parasitic infections, poisonous chemicals, drugs and alcohol abuse.

What are the Symptoms of Microcephaly?

In addition to a smaller sized head than what is customary for a newborn, there are various other symptoms that indicate a child has microcephaly. Many infants will not have a good appetite and this prevents them from growing and developing normally.

Some babies will have spontaneous contractions in their muscles. It is not uncommon for children who have been diagnosed with microcephaly to have severe learning disabilities, diminished motor skills, and problems with speech development. Other symptoms of this condition include hyperactivity, hearing and vision loss, failure to grow in height, seizures, and poor coordination and balance.

Microcephaly Causes

Microcephaly is primarily a genetic disorder produced by abnormalities that interfere with the growth of the cerebral cortex. This usually occurs within the early weeks of fetal development and has also been linked to other developmental disorders, such as Down’s syndrome, chromosomal syndromes, and neurometabolic syndromes. This condition will cause the baby to be born with an abnormally small head, disproportionate to the rest of the body.

There are other external factors that may be responsible for the child getting microcephaly disorder, such as the mother smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The child may be similarly affected, if the mother contracts cytomegalovirus, rubella (German measles), or the varicella (chicken pox) virus, during pregnancy. Also, if the mother has been exposed to toxic or hazardous chemicals or has suffered from untreated phenylketonuria (PKU), microcephaly may be a greater concern.

How is Microcephaly Treated?

There is not a medical cure for microcephaly but there are treatments that can help with the various symptoms of this disorder. Medications are often prescribed for children who regularly have seizures and for those who are hyperactive.

Physical therapy sessions can help children with coordination and muscle movement. Children who have speech difficulties can improve by taking speech therapy lessons. Additional types of treatment include occupational therapy, which provides help with performing daily activities and psychological counseling to help children and their families cope with the challenges of this disorder.

Microcephaly Prevention

Pregnant women can take a number of steps to ensure their child isn’t born with microcephaly. Sticking to a nutritional diet, taking prenatal vitamins and avoiding smoking and drinking is a major step in reducing the risks that a child will be born with this condition.

Additionally, expectant mothers should wash their hands frequently, much more often than they might otherwise do, and are advised to take extra caution in staying clear of chemicals, including cleaning supplies. For pet owners, pregnant women should arrange for others to change a cat’s litter box, as cat feces carry hazardous parasites that promote the spread of toxoplasmosis.

Insect bites may also create a concern. According to CDC reports, insect repellent is safe for pregnant women and should be used during outdoor activities.

Women who have previously given birth to children with microcephaly and wish to get pregnant again should talk with their doctor and a genetic counselor. A consultation will outline the risks of having a second baby with microcephaly.