Information for Patients
Most brain malformations begin long before a baby is born. Something damages the developing nervous system or causes it to develop abnormally. Sometimes it's a genetic problem. In other cases, exposure to certain medicines, infections, or radiation during pregnancy interferes with brain development. Parts of the brain may be missing, abnormally small or large, or not fully developed.
Treatment depends upon the problem. In many cases, treatment only helps with symptoms. It may include antiseizure medicines, shunts to drain fluid from the brain, and physical therapy.
There are head malformations that do not involve the brain. Craniofacial disorders are the result of abnormal growth of soft tissue and bones in the face and head. It's common for new babies to have slightly uneven heads, but parents should watch the shape of their baby's head for possible problems.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Neural Tube Defects
Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. They happen in the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. In spina bifida, the fetal spinal column doesn't close completely. There is usually nerve damage that causes at least some paralysis of the legs. In anencephaly, most of the brain and skull do not develop. Babies with anencephaly are usually either stillborn or die shortly after birth. Another type of defect, Chiari malformation, causes the brain tissue to extend into the spinal canal.
The exact causes of neural tube defects aren't known. You're at greater risk of having an infant with a neural tube defect if you
- Have obesity
- Have poorly controlled diabetes
- Take certain antiseizure medicines
Getting enough folic acid, a type of B vitamin, before and during pregnancy prevents most neural tube defects.
Neural tube defects are usually diagnosed before the infant is born, through lab or imaging tests. There is no cure for neural tube defects. The nerve damage and loss of function that are present at birth are usually permanent. However, a variety of treatments can sometimes prevent further damage and help with complications.
NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Spinal Cord Diseases
Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs down the middle of your back. It carries signals back and forth between your body and your brain. It is protected by your vertebrae, which are the bone disks that make up your spine. If you have an accident that damages the vertebrae or other parts of the spine, this can also injure the spinal cord. Other spinal cord problems include
- Infections such as meningitis and polio
- Inflammatory diseases
- Autoimmune diseases
- Degenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and spinal muscular atrophy
Symptoms vary but might include pain, numbness, loss of sensation and muscle weakness. These symptoms can occur around the spinal cord, and also in other areas such as your arms and legs. Treatments often include medicines and surgery.