Microcephaly is smaller than normal head in an infant or child. There are a number of possible causes of microcephaly in babies. When a child has microcephaly, they also tend to have underdeveloped or smaller brains. People with microcephaly often suffer developmental disabilities, motor dysfunction, and seizures.
The problems that cause microcephaly can sometimes be identified before the fetus develops through genetic testing. Abnormal chromosomal or genetic syndromes can indicate a greater risk for microcephaly before the baby develops. In other cases, microcephaly can be acquired after exposure to drugs or infections.
It is important for doctors and medical staff in Philadelphia to properly monitor the health of the baby early on in development and throughout labor. Doctors should also advise mothers and parents of the risks of certain disorders or health complications, to give parents the information necessary to provide a healthy development for their child.
What is Microcephaly?
The brain is such a complex organ that brain development in a fetus starts early. As the head and brain grow over the course of the pregnancy, the brain develops much of its function in controlling and regulating the body. Brain development continues after birth but development in the early stages may be the most important.
When there is a disruption in the process that forms the brain during pregnancy is interrupted, it can cause underdevelopment of the brain and a smaller-than-normal head. This is known as microcephaly. When a fetus develops with a small head it generally indicates a problem of some neurological deficit.
Causes of Microcephaly or Small Head Development
There are a number of possible causes for microcephaly. In some cases, the cause may be unknown. Causes can be congenital or develop after birth. Congenital causes are diseases or abnormalities present from birth. Congenital causes may include:
- Chromosomal syndromes
- Genetic defects
- Drug use by the mother
- Alcohol use by the mother
There are a number of chromosomal syndromes that may increase the risk of microcephaly, including Down syndrome or Patau syndrome. Genetic defects include contiguous gene deletion syndromes and single gene defect syndromes. Many of these chromosomal and genetic causes can be detected early in development.
Acquired causes may develop over the course of the pregnancy when the mother or fetus is exposed to injury, infection, or exposure. Fetal alcohol syndrome and drug use by the mother can increase the risk of microcephaly. Other conditions like gestational diabetes, malnutrition, hypothyroidism, or radiation exposure may also increase the risk of microcephaly.
There are a number of infections that have been connected to increased risk of microcephaly, including:
- Congenital cytomegalovirus
- Congenital rubella
- Congenital varicella
- Zika virus
When the mother is exposed to one of these viruses, it can be transmitted to the baby. For example, the Zika virus is a relatively recent disease that caused an epidemic in the U.S. in 2015 to 2016. The symptoms in a healthy adult were mild but for pregnant mothers, the infection could lead to serious injury for the developing fetus, including microcephaly.
Causes of Microcephaly After Birth
Microcephaly may also develop after birth. During the early years, a child’s head and brain continue to develop. Genetic conditions, syndromes, or acquired injuries during the early stages of life can also cause microcephaly. Causes of postnatal onset microcephaly include:
- Metabolic disorders
- Chromosomal syndromes
- Genetic birth defects
- Traumatic brain injury
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
- Kidney failure
- Congenital heart disease
Treatment for Microcephaly in Children
Genetic mutations in the genes or chromosomes are the most common cause of microcephaly. Genetic testing during pregnancy may identify a number of chromosomal or genetic mutations that may be associated with an increased risk of microcephaly or other conditions. Genetic testing can include blood tests, amniocentesis, and Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS).
There may not be any way to treat an underdeveloped head to return to normal size. Like many brain injuries, the complications associated with microcephaly are permanent. Treatment generally involves learning to live with medical conditions that may make it more difficult to move, communicate, or live an independent life. This may include:
Medication may be used to treat some of the complications of microcephaly, including seizure treatment.
In cases of craniosynostosis, where there is premature closure of the joints between the bones in the skull, surgery can treat the problem to allow for continued head growth.
Complications Associated with Microcephaly
Brain growth is connected to head growth and smaller head development is often associated with underdevelopment of the brain. As a result, microcephaly is associated with a number of complications and brain development problems. Complications include:
- Developmental delays
- Poor motor function
- Coordination difficulties
- Speech problems
- Loss of vision
- Hearing problems
- Abnormal facial features
- Intellectual disabilities
Medical Malpractice and Microcephaly
How can medical negligence cause microcephaly? Doctors are held to a certain “standard of care.” When doctors fail to do something or mistreat a patient that goes outside the standard of care, leading to an injury, the doctor may have committed medical malpractice. If a child is born with microcephaly, there are a number of ways it could have been caused by medical errors.
If a doctor fails to order tests, fails to properly evaluate tests, or fails to notice warning signs that could indicate the possibility of microcephaly, the baby’s injuries may have been caused, in part, by the doctor’s negligence. Similarly, if a pregnant woman is negligently exposed to infection in the hospital setting or suffers an injury that causes harm to the baby, the hospital may be liable for damages.
Birth Injury Lawyers
A medical malpractice claim may never be able to change the damage to a child but it can help the family live with the difficulties of raising a child with serious health conditions. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the family can recover damages, including medical expenses, future care, and pain and suffering to help the family after a medical error.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate birth injuries. We can help families determine if the birth injury was caused by malpractice or negligence. Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to birth injuries. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.