Conditions + Treatments

Microcephaly in Children

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Microcephaly Overview

The human brain is a powerful organ with an amazing ability to process information, master complex behavior and create works of art, science and literature. However, while developing in infancy, the brain is also very vulnerable: even slight disruptions can have serious long-term results.

When a child has microcephaly, abnormal brain development results in an abnormal head size – much smaller than other children of the same 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.

Here are some of the key facts about microcephaly:

  • It can be congenital – meaning present at birth – or it can occur later during infancy.
  • It is relatively rare, affecting about 25,000 children in the U.S. each year.
  • It can be an isolated condition, or it can be associated with another medical problem.
  • It often (but not always) causes learning disabilities and other neurological issues.

Unfortunately, microcephaly is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured. However, there is hope: Advances in neurological care have made possible new ways of managing a child’s symptoms, allowing a child to achieve and enjoy an optimal quality of life.

How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches microcephaly

Boston Children’s has a long and distinguished history of caring for children with complex diseases and disorders of the brain, spine and central nervous system. Clinicians in our Department of Neurology and Department of Neurosurgery are regarded as international leaders in understanding and treating rare conditions like microcephaly.

In particular, our Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program specializes in diagnosing, studying and managing microcephaly and a broad spectrum of other conditions that affect newborns’ brains. Our expert care team includes:

  • neurologists, doctors with extensive training in diseases of the nervous system
  • developmental psychologists, doctors who study the mental and behavioral health changes children experience as they grow
  • nurses with significant experience in the neurosciences
  • social workers, who provide counseling and offer emotional and psychosocial support

At the same time, doctors and researchers in our Division of Genetics are working hard to understand how and why microcephaly develops, in hopes of one day introducing new therapies – and the chance of a cure.

Did you know?

Boston Children's Hospital has been ranked #1 in the nation in pediatric neurology and neurosurgery by U.S. News & World Report. Learn more.

Microcephaly: Reviewed by Janet S. Soul, MD
© Boston Children’s Hospital; posted in 2011

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