What are encephaloceles?
Encephaloceles are 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. When located in the back of the skull, encephaloceles are often associated with neurological problems.
Encephaloceles are usually 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.
Symptoms and associated abnormalities of encephaloceles may 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
Some affected children may have normal intelligence. There is a genetic component to the condition; it often occurs in families with a history of spina bifida and anencephaly.
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. Hydrocephalus associated with encephaloceles may require surgical treatment with a shunt. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive.
The prognosis for individuals with encephaloceles varies depending on the type of brain tissue involved, the location of the sacs, and the accompanying brain malformations.
How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with encephaloceles?
Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about encephaloceles and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.
All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.
For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with encephaloceles at Clinicaltrials.gov.
Where can I find more information about encephaloceles?
Information may be available through the following resource: