Anencephaly is a serious birth defect affecting the brain and spinal cord of a newborn. While it is one of the most severe anomalies that can occur, research shows that some babies with anencephaly are able to survive for a few hours or even days after birth. Learn more about anencephaly survival rates here.
What Is Anencephaly?
Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which the brain and skull do not develop properly. This severe form of neural tube defect can occur during the earliest stages of prenatal development and is considered to be a type of cephalic disorder. Infants with anencephaly will usually experience movement abnormalities, abnormal neurological behavior, and seizures during their lifetime. It is important to be aware that most cases of anencephaly are lethal, due to the lack of developed brain tissue and skull that protect the central nervous system. Some babies may survive for a few hours or days after birth but these cases are rare.
What Are the Causes of Anencephaly?
The exact cause of anencephaly is often unknown, but it can be linked to certain inherited genetic conditions. It is also believed that environmental factors such as exposure to certain toxins or medications during pregnancy may increase the risk for this birth defect. Folate deficiency has been linked to anencephaly and other neural tube defects in some studies, so it’s important for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant to make sure they are getting enough folate in their diets. Additionally, women with a previous history of anencephaly pregnancies may be at higher risk for recurrence.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anencephaly?
Babies born with anencephaly may have an absence of both the skull and parts of the brain. The most common physical characteristics are a small head, partially formed brain, flattened nose, and no scalp or cranial bones above the eyes. Other common features include a cleft lip or palate, absent nasal passages and eyes that appear to be pushed back into the skull. There is usually no identification of heartbeat detected within 12-14 weeks of pregnancy, leading to potential diagnosis on prenatal ultrasound.
How Is Anencephaly Diagnosed and Treated?
Anencephaly is typically diagnosed via an ultrasound during pregnancy. After diagnosis, there is no known medical treatment for anencephaly, but supportive care and hospice can be provided for babies with the condition. Families should be educated about medical options and encouraged to discuss any decision with their healthcare provider. Parents are also entitled to emotional support, including counseling, before and after the birth of their baby.
What Are the Chances of Surviving Anencephaly?
The chances of surviving anencephaly are very low. Most babies with anencephaly stillborn, and those who are born alive almost always pass away soon after the birth. In some cases, it may be possible for a baby with anencephaly to survive for several days or even months after birth, but this is rare. It is estimated that only 10-20% of babies with anencephaly live beyond one day after birth.