Microcephaly is a type of neurodevelopmental disorder of children characterized by smaller head size as compared to other children of the same age and gender. In many cases, it occurs due to abnormal development of brain during fetal growth.
A smaller than normal head size is the classical symptom of microcephaly. Many children often have a normal head size at birth; but eventually as the child grows, the size of the head appears to become proportionately smaller compared to the rest of the body.
Some percentages of affected children also are dwarf and underweight. In addition, development of other motor functions is delayed and neurological defects are evident. Seizures and convulsions are a common accompaniment of microcephlay. Some children with microcephaly may develop clumsiness while some other may develop spastic qualdriplegia. Affected children develop a large head with a preceding forehead and a wrinkled scalp .
At birth, if microcephaly is suspected, then a thorough checkup should be carried out. In addition, the head circumference should be measured and compared with standardized growth charts. In many cases, the head circumference of the parents can also be measured to determine whether the condition is a common occurrence in the family. Parents should be asked about the developmental milestones of the child to further understand the condition.
If there are signs of developmental delay, certain tests along with Computerized Tomography (CT) scan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the head will be required to determine the underlying disease conditions .
In many cases, it is possible to detect microcephaly by prenatal ultrasound examination carried out during the third trimester. However, the condition can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages of fetal development .
Microcephaly cannot be treated. The treatment regime that is administered is supportive in nature, primarily geared towards improving the quality of life of the affected children. The life expectancy of children with microcephaly is greatly reduced and the chances of having a normal brain function are poor.
Abnormal development of the brain during infancy or fetal growth can lead to a head size that is smaller than normal. In many cases, microcephaly occus as a result of genetic factors. Other factors which can also favor abnormal brain development include the following:
The average prevalence of microcephaly is estimated to be 25%. The condition of microcephaly can also lead to intellect disability; however, in about 15% cases, the child has normal intellectual levels . In a study carried out on children affected by microcephaly, it was found that 10.5% of them had IQ scores below 70; whereas, 28% of them had IQ scores 70 – 80. In the US, about 25,000 infants annually develop microcephaly .
The growth of the head depends on the brain development. When the brain cannot grow at a normal rate, microcephaly develops. Various genes and genetic defects have a pivotal role to play in the development of microcephaly. Studies have postulated the fact that mutation occurring in the DNA repair pathway is one of the major causes of poor brain growth. In addition to genetic mutations, centrosomal abnormalities are another factor that favor the development of microcephaly .
In addition to this, pregnant mothers can take certain steps to avoid exposing the fetus to alcohol, drugs, toxins and other chemical compounds. Pregnant women are also advised to consume a nutritious diet to avoid malnutrition because severe malnutrition has been identified as a potential risk factor for poor brain development during fetal growth .
Children affected with microcephaly have to face serious developmental problems and deteriorated quality of life. So far, there is no treatment for correcting this condition; however, if supportive therapies are introduced in the early stages; the quality of life of the affected children can be improved. Interplay of various genetic and environmental factors is known to play a role in the causation of microcephaly .
Microcephaly is a condition in which the head of a child is smaller than normal for his age. It is frequently accompanied by underlying disorders of the brain and mental retardation. It usually results from genetic abnormalities. Exposure of the fetus to toxins, alcohol and chemicals during pregnancy also causes poor brain growth and contributes to the development of microcephaly. Symptoms of microcephaly include seizures, convulsions, high pitched crying, mental retardation and developmental delays. The diagnosis of microcephaly is made by measuring the head circumference of the affected child. Thereafter, several tests to determine the growth of the child are done at various stages of growing years. There is no specific treatment for microcephaly. Medications are given for managing the symptoms of seizures, convulsions and hyperactivity. Speech and occupational therapy are also indicated to improve the quality of life.