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NINDS Anencephaly Information Page


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What is Anencephaly?

Anencephaly is a defect in the closure of the neural tube during fetal development. The neural tube is a narrow channel that folds and closes between the 3rd and 4th weeks of pregnancy to form the brain and spinal cord of the embryo. Anencephaly occurs when the "cephalic" or head end of the neural tube fails to close, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp. Infants with this disorder are born without a forebrain (the front part of the brain) and a cerebrum (the thinking and coordinating part of the brain). The remaining brain tissue is often exposed--not covered by bone or skin. A baby born with anencephaly is usually blind, deaf, unconscious, and unable to feel pain. Although some individuals with anencephaly may be born with a rudimentary brain stem, the lack of a functioning cerebrum permanently rules out the possibility of ever gaining consciousness. Reflex actions such as breathing and responses to sound or touch may occur.

The cause of anencephaly is unknown. Although it is thought that a mother's diet and vitamin intake may play a role, scientists believe that many other factors are also involved.

Recent studies have shown that the addition of folic acid (vitamin B9) to the diet of women of childbearing age may significantly reduce the incidence of neural tube defects. Therefore it is recommended that all women of childbearing age consume 0.4 mg of folic acid daily.

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure or standard treatment for anencephaly. Treatment is supportive.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for babies born with anencephaly is extremely poor. If the infant is not stillborn, then he or she will usually die within a few hours or days after birth.

What research is being done?

Research supported by the NINDS includes studies to understand how the brain and nervous system normally develop. These studies contribute to a greater understanding of neural tube disorders, such as anencephaly, and open promising new avenues to treat and prevent neurological birth defects.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Anencephaly Clinical Trials

Organizations

Column1 Column2
March of Dimes
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY   10605
askus@marchofdimes.com
http://www.marchofdimes.com
Tel: 914-997-4488 888-MODIMES (663-4637)
Fax: 914-428-8203

Birth Defect Research for Children, Inc.
976 Lake Baldwin Lane
Suite 104
Orlando, FL   32814
betty@birthdefects.org
http://www.birthdefects.org
Tel: 407-895-0802

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT   06810
orphan@rarediseases.org
http://www.rarediseases.org
Tel: 203-744-0100 Voice Mail 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-798-2291

 
Related NINDS Publications and Information


Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated April 16, 2014