Anencephaly Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

What causes anencephaly?

Anencephaly is a type of neural tube defect. Neural tube defects, spina bifida (open spine) and anencephaly (open skull) are seen in about one of 10,000 pregnancies in the US each year. The actual number is unknown because many of these births result in miscarriages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 4,000 newborns in the United States has this condition.

During pregnancy, the brain and spine begin as a flat plate of cells, which rolls into a tube, called the neural tube. If all or part of the neural tube fails to close, leaving an opening, this is known as an open neural tube defect, or ONTD. This opening may be left exposed (80 percent of the time) or covered with bone or skin (20 percent of the time).

Anencephaly and spina bifida are the most common ONTDs.

Symptoms of anencephaly may include:

  • absence of bony covering over the back of the head
  • missing bones around the front and sides of the head
  • folding of the ears
  • cleft palate--a condition in which the roof of the child's mouth doesn't completely close, leaving an opening that can extend into the nasal cavity.
  • congenital heart defects
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