Encephalocele - rare neural tube defects characterized by sac-like protrusions of the brain and the membranes that cover it through openings in the skull. These defects are caused by failure of the neural tube to close completely during fetal development. The result is a groove down the midline of the upper part of the skull, or the area between the forehead and nose, or the back of the skull.
Symptoms include: hydrocephalus (excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain), spastic quadriplegia (paralysis of the arms and legs), microcephaly (abnormally small head), ataxia (uncoordinated movement of the voluntary muscles, such as those involved in walking and reaching), developmental delay, vision problems, mental and growth retardation, and seizures. Some affected children may have normal intelligence.
Usually encephaloceles are dramatic deformities diagnosed immediately after birth, but occasionally a small encephalocele in the nasal and forehead region can go undetected. Encephaloceles are often accompanied by craniofacial abnormalities or other brain malformations.
Some encephaloceles are diagnosed in utero with ultrasound. Usually an amniocentesis is also offered to detect genetic involvement. A fetal MRI is the best test to understand brain involvement in the encephalocele.
Generally, surgery is performed during infancy to place the protruding tissues back into the skull, remove the sac, and correct the associated craniofacial abnormalities. Even large protrusions can often be removed without causing major functional disability (if the encephalocele contains mostly CSF). Hydrocephalus associated with encephaloceles may require surgical treatment with a shunt. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive (palliative).
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