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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Craniosynostosis - Topic Overview

What is craniosynostosis?

Craniosynostosis (say "kray-nee-oh-sih-noh-STOH-sus") is a problem with the skull that causes a baby's head to be oddly shaped. In rare cases it causes pressure on the baby's brain, which can cause damage. It is also called craniostenosis.

A baby's skull is not just one bowl-shaped piece of bone. It is made up of five thin, bony plates that are held together by fibrous material called sutures camera.gif. The sutures let the skull expand as the brain grows. Over time, the sutures harden and close the skull bones together.

When a baby has craniosynostosis, one or more of these sutures close too soon. How the problem affects your baby depends in part on how many of the sutures close too soon:

  • If only one suture closes too soon, the baby's brain usually develops normally, but the head has an odd shape. This is what happens in most cases.
  • If more than one suture closes too soon, the baby's brain may not be able to grow as fast as it should. If severe pressure builds up around the brain, it may cause brain damage, seizures, blindness, and developmental delays. But this severe pressure is rare.

What causes craniosynostosis?

Experts aren't sure what causes this problem. In some cases, it runs in families. If you've had a baby with craniosynostosis and are planning another pregnancy, you may want to talk to your doctor about genetic counseling.

Craniosynostosis is more likely in:

  • Babies who lie in a breech position while in the uterus.
  • Babies whose mothers smoke or live at a high altitude during pregnancy.
  • Babies who are twins.

What are the symptoms?

The most common sign is an oddly shaped head at birth or by the time the child is a few months old. For example, the skull may become long and narrow. Or it may be very flat and broad in front or back or on the sides. The baby may have a misshapen nose or jaw.

An oddly shaped head may be the only sign of craniosynostosis.

In rare cases, the disease causes pressure to build up on the baby's brain. This can cause brain damage and can make the baby develop more slowly than other children. If you know that your baby has this condition, call your doctor right away if your baby:

  • Starts vomiting.
  • Becomes sluggish and sleeps more and plays less.
  • Becomes crankier than usual.
  • Has swollen eyes or has problems moving the eyes or following objects.
  • Has problems hearing.
  • Breathes noisily or doesn't breathe for short periods of time.
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