What is microcephaly? 

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.") Some children with microcephaly have developmental problems or learning disabilities because of a smaller brain size. Microcephaly is relatively rare, though it is estimated that—about 25,000 children in the U.S. are born with microcephaly each year.

Microcephaly is often congenital — meaning present at birth — but can also occur later during infancy. It can have several causes, from genetic problems to prenatal exposure to viruses such as Zika. For more information about the connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly, download 5 Things to Know About Microcephaly.

While there is no specific treatment for microcephaly, early intervention (such as physical, speech and occupational therapy) can help brain connections grow.


Care for microcephaly

Boston Children’s Hospital has a long history of caring for children with brain and nervous system disorders. Clinicians in our Department of Neurology, Department of Neurosurgery, Division of Genetics and Genomics are international leaders in understanding and treating rare conditions like microcephaly. Our Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program and Brain Development and Genetics Clinic also specializes in diagnosing, studying and managing microcephaly.

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.

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