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Microcephaly

By
Daisy Rogozinsky
/
October 31, 2022

Microcephaly is a rare, untreatable condition. In this article, we’ll define the term “microcephaly” and explain how it relates to birth injury law.

Key Takeaways

  • Microcephaly is a neurological condition in which a baby’s head is much smaller than other babies of the same age and sex
  • Causes of microcephaly include malnutrition, infections, exposure to substances, and more
  • The main symptom of microcephaly is a small head size 
  • There is no cure or treatment for microcephaly, but therapy can help with developmental issues and other symptoms  
  • Complications of microcephaly include seizures, intellectual delays, dwarfism, and more
  • A failure on the part of healthcare providers to take every necessary measure to prevent causing microcephaly during childbirth may be considered medical malpractice

What Is Microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which a newborn baby’s head is much smaller than those of other babies of the same age and sex. About 1 in every 800 to 5,000 babies in the United States is born with microcephaly.

Microcephaly often occurs as a result of problems with brain development in the womb or when the brain stops growing after birth. Children with microcephaly commonly have developmental issues. 

Microcephaly can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, and it does not have any treatment. However, therapies can be used to enhance their development. 

Causes of Microcephaly

Potential causes of microcephaly include:

  • Genetics - Down syndrome and other conditions can cause microcephaly
  • Craniosynostosis - When the bony plates that form an infant’s skull fuse early, stopping the brain from growing. This can be treated with surgery.
  • Cerebral anoxia - Certain complications of pregnancy and delivery can decrease oxygen to the fetus’s brain
  • Uncontrolled phenylketonuria - This condition prevents the pregnant parent from being able to break down the amino acid phenylalanine, affecting the brain development of the fetus 
  • Severe malnutrition - Not getting enough nutrients during pregnancy can slow fetal brain development
  • Exposure to substances in the womb - Drugs, alcohol, and other toxic chemicals can affect fetal brain development
  • Infections passed to the fetus during pregnancy - These include toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, rubella, (varicella) and Zika virus

Symptoms of Microcephaly

The main symptom of microcephaly is having a head size much smaller than that of other babies of the same age and sex. Head size is measured as the circumference around the top of the baby’s head. Healthcare providers will take this measurement and compare it with other children’s measurements in percentiles. Children with severe microcephaly may also have a sloping forehead.

Treating Microcephaly

There is no known cure or treatment for microcephaly. Treatment options range depending on the severity of each individual case. Babies with mild microcephaly may require no additional treatment other than monitoring growth and development. In more severe cases, babies will need treatment to help them manage other health problems including:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy 
  • Medications for seizures and other symptoms 

Complications of Microcephaly

Possible complications of microcephaly include:

  • Difficulties with coordination and balance
  • Hyperactivity
  • Seizures
  • Facial distortions
  • Intellectual delays
  • Developmental delays, including speech and movement
  • Dwarfism or short stature

Microcephaly and Birth Injury Law

It is the duty of medical professionals to work to ensure the safety of pregnancy and childbirth in order to reduce the likelihood of complications such as microcephaly. This includes proper fetal monitoring and taking measures to avoid prolonged, difficult labor. This may require things like the use of delivery assistance tools or cesarean section. Ultimately, a failure to prevent avoidable trauma to the brain during birth is negligence. When it leads to microcephaly, it may be considered medical malpractice. 

If your child developed microcephaly as a result of a healthcare professional’s negligence, you may be eligible for compensation for your medical bills and other expenses. It is recommended that you speak to an experienced birth injury attorney in order to learn about your next steps.

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