Microcephaly | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is microcephaly diagnosed?

Doctors typically diagnose microcephaly by:

  • taking a full medical and family history
  • performing a complete physical exam
  • measuring the size of the baby’s head as he or she grows, to compare with the average head size for age and gender
  • measuring the head size of the parents (sometimes smaller head sizes simply run in the family)

Can microcephaly be found during pregnancy?

If your child has the congenital form of microcephaly — arising before birth — it might be possible to detect the condition with a prenatal ultrasound during the third trimester of pregnancy. Microcephaly is usually not obvious until the third trimester.

What testing is done for microcephaly?

If your child has microcephaly that involves some degree of learning disability or other impairment, your clinician may suggest one of the following tests:

If a genetic cause of microcephaly is suspected, your clinician may also suggest genetic testing.

Will my child with microcephaly be OK?

Your child’s exact prognosis depends on his or her specific symptoms and circumstances. Keep in mind that head size doesn’t always predict how a child will do.

While microcephaly cannot be cured, support and therapy can help new brain connections grow, even if the brain remains small. 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 genetic counseling can be help you learn if the mutation is inherited and the likelihood that future children could be affected.

Those who live in or travel to areas where the Zika virus is common can prevent microcephaly by taking steps avoiding mosquito bites. Some health authorities suggest that women in Zika-affected areas postpone pregnancy until the Zika outbreak is contained.

Expectant mothers can also reduce the risk of having a baby with microcephaly by not using drugs or alcohol, eating a nutritious diet, and avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals and other viruses that can cause microcephaly.

What are the treatment options for microcephaly?

There is no cure for microcephaly, since there is no way to enlarge the brain and head. Instead, the treatment focuses on managing symptoms and any related conditions. Every child with microcephaly is different, so the type of support will be guided by his or her symptoms and severity of disease.

Children who don't have any problems other than a small head size will not need any treatment. Children who have problems with learning, speech or motor skills may benefit from:

Some children with severe microcephaly can have physical complications, such as seizures and facial deformities. These types of problems are treated separately.