Request an Appointment with codes: Neurology
At Children’s Health, we treat all types of microcephaly during your pregnancy, the postnatal period and beyond. Doctors all over North Texas – and even outside the state – refer families to us for our expertise in treating babies and children with microcephaly. Our goal is to help every child with microcephaly reach their full potential.
Request an Appointment with codes: Neurology
Microcephaly is a rare condition that occurs when a baby’s head and brain are smaller than normal for the baby’s age. It can result from infections or very rare genetic syndromes.
Microcephaly comes from “micro,” meaning small, and “cephaly,” meaning head. The term describes a baby’s head that is smaller than expected compared to other babies of the same gender, ethnic background and age.
The size of a baby’s head is largely determined by brain growth. If something causes a baby’s brain to develop abnormally in the womb, the baby's head may be smaller than is typical.
A smaller brain can cause developmental and intellectual difficulties. Microcephaly can range from mild to severe.
In most cases, the only early sign of microcephaly is a small head (skull) size. Other symptoms include:
Many babies born with microcephaly don’t have any other symptoms at birth. Later in life, they may develop complications such as:
Most commonly, your OB-GYN diagnoses microcephaly during your pregnancy, at an 18 to 20-week ultrasound scan. During this scan, the sonographer takes detailed measurements of your baby’s anatomy and compares them to expected standards.
In some cases, microcephaly develops after birth. Pediatricians and other providers track your baby’s growth and development. By measuring your child’s head size at each well-child visit over the first few years of life, a pediatrician can detect microcephaly that occurs during early childhood.
Your child’s pediatrician will also take into account if:
To diagnose the cause of the microcephaly, your child’s doctor may order tests such as:
If other family members have microcephaly, we may recommend genetic testing to understand the cause. Certain syndromes are recessive, meaning that a baby inherits one gene from each parent. The syndrome doesn’t affect mom or dad, but when those two genes come together in a baby, they can cause disease. These syndromes are some of the most common ways for a child to inherit microcephaly.
At Children’s Health℠, we may perform genetic testing called a chromosomal microarray. This test examines your baby’s DNA for common disorders that can cause microcephaly. Your family can meet with a pediatric geneticist and genetic counselors to discuss appropriate screening tests. They also discuss your future family planning and other considerations that might be important for your family.
Microcephaly itself is not a disease. Instead, it is a sign of another underlying problem.
In many cases, no one will ever know what caused microcephaly in a child. It’s not usually due to anything you did or didn’t do as a parent.
The primary cause of microcephaly may be an inherited genetic condition (congenital microcephaly). Many of these conditions are very rare. Families usually don’t even know they have the gene. These include:
At Children’s Health, we treat babies with microcephaly in utero (before birth) or after birth.
If we learn your baby has microcephaly in utero, we refer you to our Fetal Evaluation and Treatment Alliance (FETAL) Center. You’ll have access to prenatal consultants from a wide variety of medical specialties including:
We can arrange for a fetal MRI imaging exam. Fetal MRI provides highly sensitive 3D imaging of your baby’s head and brain to confirm a diagnosis.
Our neonatal neurology doctors meet your baby right after birth, in the nursery or pediatric ICU. We follow your baby’s care long-term in our outpatient clinic. Throughout your baby’s life, we provide holistic, family-centered care.
In most cases, microcephaly has no specific treatment. If your baby has related conditions, we offer treatment for those problems, such as:
In some children, microcephaly happens because the skull bones close too early or fuse together. We can refer your family to our craniofacial and plastics specialists to discuss your options. These surgeons specialize in reconstructive surgery. They can perform procedures to help separate fused bones, so your child’s head and brain have room to grow.
Through Children’s Health’s partnership with the research scientists at UT Southwestern, we can offer families access to highly sophisticated gene therapy and research options. In some cases, we have been the first in the world to pioneer these gene therapies.
Our team works together to understand the mechanism of what’s causing microcephaly and related disorders. Then we develop new treatments to create research trials where families can access those treatments.
Children’s Health offers a team of pediatric brain specialists that’s unique in North Texas. Our doctors are also on the faculty of UT Southwestern.
In the United States, about 2 to 12 in 10,000 babies are born with microcephaly. That’s fewer than 1% of U.S. births.
Because doctors sometimes don’t know what causes microcephaly, you can’t always prevent it. And even with precautions, infections still happen. But you may reduce your chances of having a baby with microcephaly if you:
The best way to know definitively if your child has microcephaly or just a small head is to ask your pediatrician. Your doctor can easily measure your baby’s head and let you know if they meet the criteria for microcephaly.
It’s natural to worry about how microcephaly could affect your child’s self-esteem and confidence later in life. In more severe cases, your child’s head may be severely disproportionate. And for any child with microcephaly, their head size is always going to be smaller than expected.
Depending on the underlying cause of microcephaly, the head size and brain will continue to grow. Eventually, the head size may even reach a typical part of the growth curve, although it will likely always be on the smaller side. Remember, too, that as your baby grows, they will grow a lot of hair, which also helps the head look more proportionate.