Moebius syndrome is a rare disorder that causes weakness or paralysis of certain cranial nerves. It’s present at birth but does not get worse over time. Signs and symptoms vary widely but often involve problems with the face, especially the mouth and eyes. Several specialists and procedures, such as “smile surgery,” can help.
Moebius syndrome is a rare, congenital (present at birth) neurological disorder. It causes weakness or paralysis of certain cranial nerves, which connect the brain to the head, neck and trunk. The condition usually affects the sixth cranial nerve (which controls the eyes) and the seventh (which controls facial expression). Other nerves are sometimes affected.
Children with Moebius syndrome often have trouble moving their faces. For example, they may not be able to smile, frown, raise their eyebrows or close their eyelids. The face might droop or appear “mask-like.” They may also have trouble feeding. Some children with Moebius syndrome also have abnormal development in the limbs or chest muscles.
Moebius syndrome is not progressive, meaning it does not get worse over time.
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Scientists have not identified any specific factors that increase a person’s chances of having Moebius syndrome. It occurs in both girls and boys of all ethnicities.
Moebius syndrome is very rare. The exact incidence is unknown, but some estimates are 2 to 20 cases per million births.
Scientists are still researching the causes of Moebius syndrome. Sometimes it’s linked to mutations in specific genes, but it usually happens sporadically (no known reason or family link).
The signs and symptoms of Moebius syndrome vary widely, depending on which cranial nerves are affected.
Physical signs may include:
Mobius syndrome can cause problems with:
Some children with Moebius syndrome may have developmental delays (such as sitting, crawling or walking later than expected), but most eventually catch up. A few studies have suggested that children with Moebius syndrome may be more likely to have autism spectrum disorder. But that has not been proven.
A healthcare provider diagnoses Moebius syndrome based on clinical criteria. That means there are no specific tests for the disorder. Diagnosis is based on a healthcare provider observing specific symptoms during an examination.
To diagnose Mobius syndrome, a child must have:
A healthcare provider may conduct tests to rule out other causes of facial weakness or paralysis.
There’s no cure for Moebius syndrome, but treatments can correct or lessen some signs and symptoms. Depending on your child’s condition, your pediatrician may refer you to medical specialists, such as:
Treatment may involve:
Surgical procedures can:
Recently, children with Mobius syndrome have benefitted from “smile surgery,” also called a “smile operation.” During this procedure, a surgeon takes a muscle from the thigh, implants it in the face and connects it to other facial muscles and nerves. It’s helped children achieve:
There is no way to prevent Moebius syndrome. Scientists are still working to understand what causes it and possible risk factors.
With proper medical care, people with Moebius syndrome usually have a normal life expectancy. This is especially true if they don’t have life-threatening complications in the first year of life.
Although symptoms can make life more challenging, many people with the condition live productive and meaningful lives.
Consider asking your healthcare team the following questions:
People with Moebius syndrome often live full lives, especially after treatment to correct or lessen the signs and symptoms. However, they may have various problems with self-esteem or the emotional aspects of the condition. It may help to:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Moebius syndrome is a rare congenital disorder that causes weakness or paralysis of certain cranial nerves. The signs and symptoms vary but often involve facial paralysis. Medical specialists and procedures can correct or lessen some effects so your child can live a more productive, meaningful life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/04/2021.
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