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What is Anencephaly?

By Chris Beazer
Updated May 16, 2024
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When a child is developing in the womb, there are many circumstances that may occur that can result in abnormal growth or development. One of these types of abnormalities are cephalic disorders. Cephalic disorders occur when there is a disturbance in the way the nervous system forms in a fetus, and they can be caused by a variety of conditions, including genetic, environmental, and hereditary. One of the most common of these cephalic disorders is called Anencephaly.

Anencephaly is a congenital birth defect, which means that it happens before birth. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS), anencephaly usually occurs between the 23rd and 26th day of pregnancy, and results in the absence of parts of the brain, scalp, and skull. This usually happens because the cephalic, otherwise known as the head end of the neural tube does not completely close.

The effects of anencephaly are quite obvious when the infant is born, as in many cases the brain tissue of the child is left exposed due to a lack of bone or skin tissue to cover it. Severe cases of anencephaly leave the infant with no forebrain. Unfortunately, the forebrain is the area of the brain that is responsible for most of our senses, thoughts, and coordination. This leaves infants suffering from the disorder unable to see, hear or move, and usually leaves them completely unconscious.

According to NINDS, between 1,000 and 2,000 babies are born each year in the United States with anencephaly. Unfortunately, most of these children will never fully gain consciousness. The cause of this disorder is still unknown. However, some scientists believe that the disorder may be caused by genetics or the mother’s diet. With regards to diet, doctors are starting to discover links between the disorder and a lack of folic acid during the first month of pregnancy while the fetal nervous system is starting to form. Because of this, doctors are beginning to recommend that women that are old enough to have children consume at least 0.4mg of folic acid each day. However, there is still much debate over what exactly causes the disorder to occur.

Most children who are born with anencephaly do not survive. In fact, most babies suffering from the disorder are stillborn. Those that do survive birth usually only live for a few hours, or at most a few days. Signs of anencephaly within a fetus can usually be discovered as early as the first ultrasound. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to fix or treat the disorder once it has occurred.

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Discussion Comments
By anon941219 — On Mar 21, 2014

I'm pretty sure the rates of anencephaly are higher. The only problem is many of these births get aborted which doesn't make it to the statistics.

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