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Microcephaly: Alainah's story
16-month-old Alainah of Cape Cod has enrolled in a genetics study to find the cause of her small head size. In the meantime, early interventions are helping her achieve her greatest potential.
When a child has microcephaly, the brain develops abnormally, causing the head to be much smaller than expected for the child's age. ("Micro" means "small," while "cephaly" comes from the Greek word for "head.") These complications can also lead to problems with a child's cognitive abilities and neurological functions.
However, it's important to know that while a small brain may not catch up to normal size, early intervention (such as physical, speech and occupational therapy) can encourage brain connections to grow, allowing a child to achieve and enjoy an optimal quality of life.
Some other key facts about microcephaly:
Will my child with microcephaly be OK?
Your child’s exact prognosis depends on her specific symptoms and circumstances, but you should know that head size and even a brain MRI don’t always predict how a child will do.
Also, while microcephaly cannot be cured altogether, interventions focused on your child’s behavioral and cognitive development can help new brain connections grow, even if the brain remains small. Not every child experiences neurological complications, and even in the most severe cases, there are treatment options that can help your child feel and function better.
Can microcephaly be prevented?
When microcephaly is genetic, it cannot be prevented, but if your child is believed to have a genetic cause of her microcephaly, genetic counseling can be very helpful as you plan to add to your family. Genetic testing can help determine whether the mutation is inherited and the likelihood that future children could be affected.
Mothers living in areas where Zika virus is prevalent should avoid being bitten by mosquitos (using repellant, etc.). Some health authorities are also suggesting that women in Zika-affected areas postpone pregnancy until the Zika outbreak is contained.
Expectant mothers can also lessen their chances of having a baby with microcephaly by avoiding the use or abuse of drugs or alcohol, staying well nourished and avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals and other viruses that can cause microcephaly.
Boston Children’s has a long and distinguished history of caring for children with brain and nervous system disorders. Clinicians in our Department of Neurology and Department of Neurosurgery are regarded as international leaders in understanding and treating rare conditions like microcephaly. Our Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program also specializes in diagnosing, studying and managing microcephaly and other conditions that affect newborns' a broad spectrum of other conditions that affect newborns’ brains.
Our microcephaly care team includes:
Our care also has a research component. Physicians and scientists in our Brain Development and Genetics Clinic are working hard to understand how and why microcephaly develops, in hopes of one day introducing new therapies. The clinic is actively enrolling patients to understand the effects of different genetic mutations that cause microcephaly.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”