Microcephaly (Small Brain): Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

microcephaly causes
microcephaly causes

You might be excited about having a baby but it’s also normal to have a few worries. And a common worry that many expectant mothers have is that the baby may not be born healthy. So if you’ve have heard about microcephaly, a condition that affects babies, and want to know more, you can read all about it here.

Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head size is much smaller than other babies of the same gender and age. This can have serious implications for the health and development of your baby as head size can be an important indicator of the brain growth of a child. Now, though microcephaly is an uncommon condition, the World Health Organization reports an uptick in the number of cases due to its association with the Zika virus.


So how can you tell if your baby has microcephaly? Your doctor can make a diagnosis by measuring the circumference of your baby’s head within 24 hours of birth. An ultrasound toward the end of the second trimester or during the third trimester of your pregnancy can also be used to determine this.1 Let’s take a look at what this condition could mean for your child and how you can deal with it.

Symptoms Of Microcephaly

The most significant symptom of microcephaly is that the baby’s head size is smaller than is usual when compared to others of the same age and gender. Other symptoms of this condition can differ from child to child and may include:

  • Poor weight gain and growth
  • Lack of appetite and problems with feeding like finding it difficult to swallow
  • An uncommonly high-pitched cry
  • Issues with motor skills and difficulty with balance and movement
  • Problems with vision or hearing loss
  • Seizures or muscle spasms
  • Learning disabilities
  • Developmental delays, for instance, missing milestones for standing, sitting, walking, etc.
  • Facial or joint deformities

Do keep in mind though that in some cases children with microcephaly may also develop normally.2 3

Causes Of Microcephaly

Various factors can cause microcephaly. Identifying the cause may help your doctor predict the kind of symptoms that may be experienced. For example, microcephaly which is linked to an infection like the Zika virus disease during pregnancy may result in hearing and vision problems. Here are some factors that can cause microcephaly:

  • Certain infections during your pregnancy, for instance, Campylobacter pylori, toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes, HIV, syphilis, Zika, etc.
  • Exposure to harmful substances during pregnancy, for instance, heavy metals like mercury and arsenic, radiation, alcohol, smoking, etc,
  • Genetic mutations can cause microcephaly and this condition has been linked to genetic disorders like Down syndrome.
  • Insufficient nutrition before the baby is born can lead to microcephaly.
  • Brain injury, lack of sufficient oxygen supply to the brain, or an infection in the brain while an infant can also cause microcephaly in babies.4 5

Treatment For Microcephaly

There is no cure for microcephaly and the issues caused by it can vary vastly from child to child. It is also not easy to predict what specific problems a baby will face due to this condition. Therefore, it is important for a doctor to regularly monitor the growth and development of a child with microcephaly.6 Depending on the issues faced by the child a range of supportive therapies can help her cope:

  • Physical therapy can improve coordination, movement, and strength.
  • Occupational therapy can help in performing everyday tasks.
  • Speech therapy can improve voice, language, and swallowing skills.
  • Psychological services can help build self-esteem and help them address feelings about their condition.7

Starting supportive developmental services like these early can be useful in helping an affected child capitalize on her intellectual and physical capabilities. Your doctor may be able to guide you in finding the appropriate resources. In the United States, early intervention systems are also available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and you can get in touch with your community’s program if you’re concerned about your baby.8