When your infant is first born, their head shape can be unique. Generally, newborn head shape is affected by the way that your child or children were positioned in your womb. As the weeks pass and their head begins to grow and develop – quickly! – you might notice that it isn’t growing in the same way as many other young babies you have seen.
You might notice that your baby’s head is shaped a little differently, or has a bony ridge that just doesn’t seem right to you. If you’ve asked your doctor what that ridge or strange shape might mean, he or she has most likely mentioned that your child could be suffering from a condition called craniosynostosis. You’re probably curious as to the nature of the condition, and treatment options. In this article, we’ll do our best to answer your questions, and address how you can expect your dear one to fare in the long run.
When the bones in your child’s skull join together too quickly, cranial growth patterns change. The shape of the skull begins to look a little odd, and you might notice symptoms such as headaches, bulging eyes, or in severe cases, vomiting and seizures. Your child’s soft spot may have closed early, or they may not have had one at birth.
While there is a chance that your child inherited craniosynostosis from you or your partner, in most cases the condition occurs despite a lack of family history. Most children with this condition go on to live happy, healthy and productive lives. They are perfectly normal once treated, although they might face a few rough patches along the way. Other children may present with serious symptoms, such as blindness, seizures, and decreased intelligence. These children generally have a hereditary form of craniosynostosis.
Sagittal synostosis is the most common type of craniosynostosis. Children with this condition develop a characteristically boat-shaped head, which leads to another name for this type of synostosis – scaphocephaly. In scaphocephaly, the bony suture on the top of the head closes before the brain and skull have finished developing, leading to the unique and characteristic cranial shape.
Frontal plagiocephaly is the next most common type of craniosynostosis. In frontal plagiocephaly, the gap in the bones that extends from ear to ear over the top of your baby’s head has closed ahead of time. This condition most commonly occurs in girls, and is often confused with positional plagiocephaly or brachycephaly.
Boys suffer more frequently from metopic synostosis, which closes the bony gap in the front and center of a baby’s head early. As a result, they develop a pointed ridge in the forehead, and a triangular appearance to the skull when viewed from above. In extreme cases, this condition can result in exaggerated facial features. Children who experience multiple forms of craniosynostosis may develop ‘cloverleaf skull,’ and swelling on the brain.
There are two reasons that a child may develop craniosynostosis. One is an underlying problem that causes the brain to stop growing. In the other form, the brain continues to grow, and children experience swelling on the brain and pain as a result. Craniosynostosis requires treatment. If left untreated, it can cause a child to be severely disfigured, cranial pressure may increase, and headaches, developmental delays, and seizures may result as a consequence.
The only reliable treatment for craniosynostosis at this point is surgery. By separating the fused bones, doctors can help your child’s brain have more room to grow. This alleviates painful cranial pressure and swelling, and also give the skull a more normal appearance. Depending on the severity of your baby’s case, more than one surgery may be required.
The outcome for your baby depends on how many sutures are affected, your child’s health before the surgery, and the presence of other conditions such as Apert’s, Crouzon’s, Carpenter’s, Chotzen’s, or Pfeiffer’s Syndromes – all of which can cause craniosynostosis. Most children do quite well, and recover quickly. An orthotic device such as a helmet or band may be required post-surgery to help the skull achieve a normal growth pattern.