Microcephaly is a medical condition in which the circumference of the head is smaller than normal because the brain has not developed properly or has stopped growing.
Microcephaly can be present at birth or it may develop in the first few years of life.
It is most often caused by genetic abnormalities that interfere with the growth of the cerebral cortex during the early months of fetal development. It is associated with Down’s syndrome, chromosomal syndromes, and neurometabolic syndromes.
Babies may also be born with microcephaly if, during pregnancy, their mother:
Babies born with microcephaly will have a smaller than normal head that will fail to grow as they progress through infancy. Depending on the severity of the accompanying syndrome, children with microcephaly may have:
Some children with microcephaly will have normal intelligence and a head that will grow bigger, but they will track below the normal growth curves for head circumference.
Some children will only have mild disability. Others, especially if they are otherwise growing and developing normally, will have normal intelligence and continue to develop and meet regular age-appropriate milestones.
There is no treatment for microcephaly that can return a child’s head to a normal size or shape. Treatment focuses on ways to decrease the impact of the associated deformities and neurological disabilities. Early childhood intervention programs that involve physical, speech, and occupational therapists help to maximize abilities and minimize dysfunction. Medications are often used to control seizures, hyperactivity, and neuromuscular symptoms. Genetic counseling may help families understand the risk for microcephaly in subsequent pregnancies.