Microcephaly is a disorder in which the baby’s head is much smaller than expected. The baby’s head grows because the brain grows. Microcephaly can therefore occur because the baby’s brain did not develop properly during pregnancy or because it stopped growing after birth.

What is microcephaly

Microcephaly occurs when the baby’s head is significantly small compared to that of same-sex peers.

Microcephaly is an indication of insufficient brain growth.

Usually it is a condition that has no pathological significance and the child’s cognitive abilities are normal. Only when the reduction in the volume of the central parts of your nervous system (the brain) is particularly significant can it be accompanied by disabling symptoms.

It is a very widespread clinical condition, a defect that can be congenital or that can develop in the first years of the child’s life.

During pregnancy, the fetus’s head grows because its own brain is growing.

Thus the head normally grows in tandem with the development of the brain which is the main organ of the central nervous system. If the brain doesn’t grow well, or if its growth stops, the head does the same.

And from all this derives a measurement of its circumference below the average, therefore smaller than normal.

A microcephaly can occur,

  • not only because the baby’s brain did not fully develop  during pregnancy,
  • but also because it stopped growing  after birth ,
  • and both of these circumstances resulting in a reduced head size.

What problems can microcephaly cause?

Microcephaly is usually an isolated condition, ie without other defects, but it can also be accompanied by other major defects.

Depending on the severity of their condition, babies with microcephaly can have a variety of other problems.

A microcephaly is related to the following problems:

  • to convulsions;
  • to developmental delays, such as problems communicating or in other important stages (such as sitting, standing or walking);
  • to an intellectual disability (decreased learning ability, etc.);
  • to problems with movement and balance;
  • to eating problems, such as difficulty swallowing and swallowing;
  • to hearing loss;
  • to vision problems.

These issues can range from a mild condition to a severe one. Often these problems recur throughout the child’s life.

Because children’s brains are small and underdeveloped, children with severe microcephaly may have more of these problems, or have more difficulty coping with, than those with milder microcephaly.

Severe microcephaly can be life-threatening.

At birth, it is difficult to predict what problems a newborn with microcephaly will have. Therefore these children often need to be assisted through regular check-ups by health professionals in order to better monitor their growth and development.

Possible causes of microcephaly

The causes of microcephaly in many children are unknown. In some it is linked to genetic changes.

Its other causes are to be found in the following conditions incurred during pregnancy:

  • at certain infections: rubella,  toxoplasmosis  or cytomegalovirus;
  • severe malnutrition, or nutrient deficiencies or lack of necessary food;
  • exposure to dangerous substances, such as alcohol , certain drugs, or toxic compounds;
  • to the interruption of blood flow to the child’s brain during development.

Some babies with microcephaly are associated with mothers who were infected with the Zika virus , a mosquito-borne flavivirus, during pregnancy  .

Several pieces of evidence have been found to support that the Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and other brain defects in the fetus.

The diagnosis of microcephaly

Microcephaly can be diagnosed during pregnancy or after the baby is born.

During pregnancy , microcephaly can be diagnosed by ultrasound.

To be able to see if there is a possible microcephaly, the test should be done in the late  second trimester  or early  third trimester .

In the 24-48 hours  after birth ,  during a physical examination of the newborn: a health professional measures the circumference of his test and subsequently compares the results with those of the standard population of the same age and of the same sex.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform, Maternicity.com.

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