What Causes Anencephaly During Pregnancy?

4 min read

Written by Bindu Raichura

Bindu Raichura

Bindu’s background in English literature paved the way for her writing career. Her vast experience in content across different genres has proved her strong point as a successful writer.

When the rarest of the medical condition affects our kids or relatives, it is very disheartening. And especially when the case like anencephaly is with one’s newborn child.  The disease of anencephaly is so rare that it affects only one in every thousand newborn babies. Let’s learn more about this medical condition and understand the reasons and treatments associated with it.

anencephaly

What is Anencephaly?

Sadly enough, anencephaly is a medical condition wherein the child born suffers from the problem of brain defect since the time of birth itself. An anencephalic baby has a Neural Tube Defect (NTD) at the time of birth. In anencephalic babies, there is the absence of parts of the cerebrum or forebrain in the brain or/and also bone in the back of the head or/and bones missing on the front and sides of the head. The parts of the brain that get formed are exposed and not covered with bones and skin.

What Causes Anencephaly in Babies?

Although there are no well researched and defined reasons behind anencephalic babies, few factors falling under the category of genetics, environment, and nutrition during pregnancy have been identified and discussed below:

  • Anencephaly or exposed brain syndrome is not hereditary. But if the previous pregnancy of the lady did have an anencephalic fetus, there are high chances of having the next pregnancy with anencephaly too.
  • Lack of folic acid in women during pregnancy can lead to anencephalic baby development within her. So pregnant ladies are often advised to take prenatal vitamins containing 400 micrograms of folic acid during and before pregnancy. Those who don’t get enough folic acid (vitamin B9) when they’re pregnant have a higher risk of having a baby with anencephaly.
  • Uncontrolled gestational diabetes increases the risk of neural tube defect. The high content of glucose in the blood does affect fetal development.
  • Making use of a sauna bath or hot water tub during the early stages of pregnancy puts the pregnant lady at risk of giving birth to anencephalic babies.
  • An excessive dosage of anti-seizure drugs like phenytoin, carbamazepine, and valproic acid can cause NTDs.
  • Obese pregnant ladies are at higher risk of having an anencephalic baby.
  • Consumption of opioids during the initial two months of pregnancy can lead to NTDs. Opioids consist of heroin which is an illegal drug and hydrocodone.

anencephalic baby

What are the Symptoms?

Although the kind of symptoms of an anencephalic baby varies from individual to individual, few diagnosed symptoms are mentioned here below:

  • Lack of bone on the back of the head
  • Absence of bones in the front and sides of the head
  • Absence of cerebrum in brain
  • Folded ears
  • Split in the cleft palate of the mouth
  • Congenital heart defects

Diagnosis and Treatment:

During pregnancy, the healthcare providers might recommend the pregnant lady a few tests to look for symptoms related to neural tube defects. Prenatal tests for anencephaly include:

  • Quad Marker Screen Blood Test:

In this blood test, the neural tube defects and genetic disorders present in the fetus can be detected. If in the test report the level of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is high, there are chances of getting an anencephalic fetus.

  • Ultrasound:

During a prenatal ultrasound, the pictures of the unborn baby look at the baby’s skull, brain, and spine. And in case of non-formation of part of the brain, the anencephalic fetus can easily get identified.

  • Fetal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

In case of doubt regarding the presence of anencephalic syndrome, the healthcare provider may ask for an MRI scan to get a clear picture of the brain and spine in greater detail.

anencephaly treatment

  • Amniocentesis:

In this test, a fine needle is inserted into the amniotic sac to take the sample of the amniotic fluid. Thereafter the level of AFP is tested in amniotic fluid. In the case of high levels of AFP or acetylcholinesterase enzyme, it gets confirmed that the fetus is anencephalic.

Is Anencephaly in Babies Preventive?

The neural tube (NT) closes twenty-eight to thirty-two days after a baby is conceived. Many women are not even aware of their pregnancy during these initial days. And it is during the initial three to eight weeks of pregnancy that the neural tube gets affected by factors such as:

  • Lack of folic acid and other nutrients
  • Infection
  • Usage of medicine or alcohol
  • A hazardous chemical-infused environment surrounding
  • Any genetic disorder

And, so women who cautiously maintain a good level of folic acid during pregnancy, tend to lower the risk of anencephaly baby.  Thus, pregnant ladies should emphasize the consumption of some leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, nuts, beans, and fortified breakfast cereals to maintain a good level of folic acid within them. Even if you are not pregnant, but are in the childbearing age or planning a pregnancy, start taking folic acid & vitamins, to reduce or zero down the risk of anencephaly. In case the healthcare provider has identified a neural tube defect in your fetus, then an extra dosage of folic acid is recommended before and after conception.

Anencephaly is a fatal condition where many anencephalic babies are stillborn or their pregnant mothers suffer a miscarriage. These anencephalic babies die within hours of delivery. And if not then, they die within a few days or weeks.  In case the child survives for a longer duration (more than a few weeks) then they tend to lose any response towards sound or touch. They might be unconscious, deaf, or even blind.

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Bindu Raichura,MA (English Literature), Delhi University Diploma in Journalism & Mass Communications, Xavier Institute of Communications (XIC), Mumbai

Bindu’s background in English literature paved the way for her writing career. Her vast experience in content across different genres has proved her strong point as a successful writer.Read more.

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