Craniosynostosis occurs when a baby’s skull bones fuse too early. It causes problems with the shape of the baby’s skull. With early treatment, most children don't experience any other craniosynostosis symptoms. Babies may undergo helmet therapy or surgery to correct the skull shape.
A newborn baby’s skull consists of several bones that fit together. Usually, newborns have spaces called sutures between their skull bones. The sutures let the skull size grow to accommodate the baby’s growing brain. When the bones of the skull are fused together either at birth or fuse too soon, the condition is called craniosynostosis.
The sutures of the skull fuse around the brain at around age 2 years. When a baby has craniosynostosis, one or more of these sutures hardens too early and closes before the baby reaches age 2.
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In places where sutures have fused too early, a baby’s head may stop growing. In other areas, where sutures haven’t fused, the baby’s head will continue to grow. As a result, babies with craniosynostosis often have heads that are asymmetrical (misshapen).
If a baby has multiple sutures that close too early, the brain might not have enough room to grow. As a result, these babies might experience a buildup of pressure in the skull (intracranial pressure).
Craniosynostosis types are based on where the sutures close:
Craniosynostosis is uncommon. It affects about 1 in every 2,500 babies in the United States.
Sagittal craniosynostosis is the most common type of congenital craniosynostosis.
In most babies, experts can't identify one known cause of craniosynostosis. Sometimes, craniosynostosis occurs because of a sporadic (random) gene mutation (change), or it may run in families. Prematurity is a risk factor for craniosynostosis.
In other cases, some factors during pregnancy increase a baby’s risk for developing craniosynostosis. These include:
The primary symptom of craniosynostosis is a misshapen skull. If babies receive early surgical treatment, they may not experience any other craniosynostosis symptoms.
Other signs of craniosynostosis include:
If left untreated, craniosynostosis or the resulting intracranial pressure can lead to:
Some children may struggle with self-esteem and body image if they have facial asymmetry or deformities. Support groups, counseling and psychotherapy can help your child foster a positive self-image.
Healthcare providers usually can diagnose craniosynostosis by feeling for soft spots on your baby’s head, feeling for ridges that signify fused skull sutures and measuring the head circumference.
If the size of your baby’s head is not growing as expected, the healthcare provider will check for craniosynostosis. It’s important to remember that a small-sized head can be due to several other reasons as well. Your baby may need an X-ray or CT scan of the head to confirm this diagnosis.
Craniosynostosis treatment varies depending on the severity and the baby’s symptoms. Treatment may include:
Your child may need other supportive therapies such a physical, occupational and speech therapies to support return to normal functioning and activities.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent craniosynostosis. Prenatal genetic testing may show gene mutations that could lead to craniosynostosis. A genetic counselor can help you understand genetic risks and possible treatment options if your baby is born with craniosynostosis.
You can increase your chances of having a healthy baby by:
Most babies who receive timely craniosynostosis treatment live a healthy life. Earlier treatment can minimize developmental problems due to pressure on the brain.
Some babies with craniosynostosis also have a genetic syndrome. Some genetic syndromes that can cause a misshapen skull and other associated abnormalities include:
You might ask your child’s healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Craniosynostosis occurs when a baby’s skull bones fuse too early. As a result babies may have a misshapen skull, which may impair brain growth. Without treatment, children may have developmental delays. Helmet therapy or craniosynostosis surgery can release or reshape a baby’s fused bones. With timely treatment, most children with craniosynostosis grow and develop in a healthy way.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/30/2021.
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