Small Brain, Full Life

Man With Unusually Small Brain Defies Doctors' Expectations

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 19, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

July 19, 2007 -- French doctors today reported on a man whose brain size -- and life -- they found remarkable.

It's not that the man had a splashy life. Actually, the opposite was true. You might glance at the surface facts of his life -- married father of two, French government job, 44 years old -- and not bat an eye.

But a closer look landed him on the pages of The Lancet.

The man went to a hospital in Marseille, France, because his left leg had been weak for two weeks.

His doctors included Lionel Feuillet, MD, of the neurology department at Marseille's Universite de la Mediterranee.

They learned that the man had had hydrocephaly as a baby. Hydrocephaly is the abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.

When the man was 6 months old, doctors had inserted a shunt to drain away the excess fluid. At age 14, he had had leg and balance problems that cleared up when doctors revised his brain shunt.


The man's medical history was "otherwise normal," even though he had an unusually small brain and low IQ scores due to the hydrocephaly, Feuillet's team notes.

The doctors treated the 44-year-old man's leg problems by inserting a brain shunt. But that didn't change his small brain size or IQ scores.

Even so, the man was leading the sort of life many people with bigger brains take for granted.

The doctors aren't suggesting that this man is a typical hydrocephaly patient. But their report shows that high-tech brain scans and IQ tests don't always tell the full story, and that an "average" life may actually be astounding.

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SOURCES: Feuillet, L. The Lancet, July 21, 2007; vol 370: p 262. News release, The Lancet.

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