Anencephaly in babies is a medical condition that affects 1 out of 1000 pregnancies, with most of them ending up in miscarriages. The condition is mostly sporadic and maybe hereditary in a few cases. It does not support life and babies afflicted with this neural condition are stillborn or die within hours or days of birth. The exact cause of anencephaly is not known, it is believed to be a result of an interaction between genetic and environmental factors.
What is anencephaly?
Anencephaly is a neural tube defect which is a set of birth defects affecting the spine, spinal cord, and brain. Neural tube defects differ in severity and anencephaly is on the severe end. It is a birth defect that affects the brain and the bones of the skull. Thus resulting in portions of the brain and bones of the skull, not developing completely when the baby is in the womb. Owing to this, the cerebellum develops minimally. The cerebellum is responsible for senses like touch, vision, hearing, movement, and thinking. It develops early in the pregnancy. The neural tube is a narrow shaft that closes during fetal development and forms the brain and spinal cord during the fourth week of pregnancy. In this incurable condition, the brain tissue, if formed, is left exposed and there is no skin and bone to cover it.
Unfortunately, babies born with anencephaly never gain consciousness or carry out the physical functions of the body, mainly as many important parts of the brain are missing. Because the condition affects the skull, babies are born with physically deformed brains.
Causes of anencephaly in babies
- Diabetic mother
- Lack of folic acid
- Medication like phenytoin, carbamazepine and valproic
- Illegal drugs and painkillers
Symptoms of anencephaly in babies
- Absence of bone covering the back of the head
- Absence of bones on the side and front of the head
- Folded ears
- Cleft palate where the roof of the baby’s mouth does not close completely, leaving an opening that extends to the nasal cavity
- Congenital heart defects
Diagnosis of anencephaly in babies
High levels of alpha-fetoprotein in the liver can indicate anencephaly.
Sonograms that create images of the developing fetus can show physical signs of anencephaly.
Fluid drawn from the amniotic sac that surrounds the fetus can be used to study evidence of abnormal development.
Fetal MRI scan
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) produces radio waves and a magnetic field that displays images of the fetus. An MRI scan provides more detailed pictures of ultrasound and can be taken at any time.
Treatment of anencephaly in babies
There is no treatment or cure for anencephaly. An anencephalic fetus must be well-protected. Most of the treatment is supportive by keeping the baby as comfortable as possible. An infant born with this condition like missing parts of the scalp should have the exposed parts of the brain covered and must be kept warm and comfortable. The condition affects the life expectancy of the infant and it is likely to be no more than a few hours or a few days. Grief counseling services are offered by hospitals to parents, to help them come to terms with the loss of the child.
Can it be prevented?
It is difficult to prevent anencephaly and may not be possible in all cases. There are a few steps that can be taken to reduce the risks. A daily dose of at least 400 micrograms of folic acid is recommended, during pregnancy. To reduce the risk of anencephaly, the folic acid intake must be monitored by taking supplements or eating foods that are fortified with folic acid. Doctors could recommend taking supplements and a diet rich in folic acid, depending on the condition.
If a woman had one child anencephaly, the chances of having another one are very low. Adequate intake of folic acid before and during pregnancy can help further reduce the risk.
Anencephaly in babies is a common condition that affects the brain and skull of the baby. It affects the brain and very often results in miscarriages or stillbirth. The nervous system develops within 28 to 32 days after the baby is conceived and that’s when the neural tube closes. Most women do not even know that they are pregnant by then. So, if a woman has had a history of children with neural tube defects, then seek guidance from the doctor for future pregnancies and take necessary precautions.
- Facts about anencephaly | CDC
- Anencephaly in babies: reasons, signs, diagnosis & treatment (firstcry.com)