Anencephaly
Anencephaly

Anencephaly

Anencephaly is a birth defect that happens while your baby is developing during pregnancy. Babies with anencephaly are born without parts of the brain, scalp, and skull. Anencephaly is a very serious type of birth defect that affects the brain, the spine, or the spinal cord (neural tube defects, NTD). Most babies born with anencephaly die shortly after birth.

What are the causes?

The cause of this condition is not known.

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make it more likely that your baby will develop this condition:
  • You lack folic acid in your diet.
  • You belong to a certain ethnic group. Anencephaly is more common among certain ethnic groups and in certain countries.
  • You previously gave birth to a child with anencephaly or any other NTD.

What are the signs or symptoms?

The main symptom of this condition is that a baby is born without a part of the brain or skull. Most babies with this condition are missing a part of the brain that controls thinking and coordination.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is usually diagnosed during pregnancy, often during the first trimester. A diagnosis may be made by:
  • Ultrasound.
  • Blood tests.
Sometimes anencephaly is not diagnosed during pregnancy. In that case, a health care provider will see the condition as soon as the baby is born.

How is this treated?

There is no cure or treatment for this disorder.
  • Talk to your health care provider about your options during pregnancy and after birth.
  • After your baby is born, treatment will focus on making your baby as comfortable as possible.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Keep all of your scheduled prenatal visits.
  • Consider seeking emotional support. This could include support from your spiritual leader, friends, family, a professional counselor, or a support group.
  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Do not drink beverages containing alcohol. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
  • Do not use any drugs.
  • Let your health care provider know if you have had a pregnancy that was affected by an NTD.

How is this prevented?

If you are pregnant, may be pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, you can reduce your baby's chances of having an NTD by:
  • Taking a prenatal vitamin that has at least 400 mcg of folic acid. Ask your health care provider about the amount of folic acid that you should take.
  • Eating foods that have folic acid added (are fortified), such as orange juice, enriched pasta, or breakfast cereal.
  • Eating foods high in folate, such as broccoli, spinach, beans, and lentils.
  • Working with your health care provider to prepare for pregnancy if you had a past pregnancy affected by NTD.

Contact a health care provider if you:

  • Have dizziness.
  • Have mild pelvic cramps, pelvic pressure, or nagging pain in the abdominal area.

Get help right away if you:

  • Have a fever.
  • Have spotting or bleeding from your vagina.
  • Are leaking fluid from your vagina.
  • Have severe abdominal cramping or pain.

Summary

  • Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain, scalp, and skull. Most babies born with anencephaly die shortly after birth.
  • There is no cure or treatment for this disorder. Talk with your health care provider about your options during pregnancy and after birth.
  • If you are pregnant, may be pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, you can reduce your baby's chances of having an NTD by taking a prenatal vitamin that has at least 400 mcg of folic acid and eating foods that are high in folic acid.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.