2018-01-14 / Health

Microcephaly brought into the limelight

Conception and childbirth are miracles of life. While parents experience many joys during pregnancy and delivery, they must discuss potentially uncomfortable conversations that need to be addressed. This includes the potential that babies will born with birth defects.

Over the last year, microcephaly, a rare but serious disability, has garnered substantial attention. Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex, advises The Mayo Clinic. The condition is typically the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it is supposed to after birth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says microcephaly can be an isolated condition, or it can occur in combination with other major birth defects.

Depending on the severity of the condition, children with microcephaly can face any number of symptoms. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, symptoms of microcephaly include impaired cognitive development, delayed motor functions, dwarfism, seizures, difficulties with balance, and other neurological abnormalities.

Although microcephaly is rare, according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Network, it may become more common. That’s because microcephaly has been linked to mothers who were exposed to the Zika virus while pregnant. Exposure to in utero substance abuse, as well as genetic or chromosomal issues, also can lead to microcephaly. Dr. Nassim Zecavati, an assistant professor of pediatrics and neurology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, says essentially anything that slows down brain growth in the womb or causes a severe deprivation of oxygen and blood flow before, during or after delivery can be problematic.

Unfortunately, no treatment exists to return a child’s head and brain to normal size. Instead, treatment focuses on reducing the impact associated with neurological disabilities and subsequent physical disabilities. Early childhood intervention programs that include speech, physical and occupational therapy may be part of a child’s course of treatment. Certain medications can be prescribed to help with seizures or hyperactivity.

Thanks to its link to the Zika virus, microcephaly has garnered considerable attention over the last year-plus. Though still rare, microcephaly is something expecting parents and couples planning to have children should familiarize themselves with.

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