Birth Defects Brain Nervous System

Congenital defects of the brain and nervous system can affect cognitive functioning, as well as the ability of the brain and nerves to communicate with the body. The brain and central nervous system begin to form early in pregnancy, often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

The brain and spinal cord make up the body’s central nervous system. The brain serves as the body’s command center, generating motor commands and sending nerve impulses that reach the body’s muscles and cause movement. In addition, it receives and interprets nerve signals from the body. The spinal cord carries the nerve impulses to and from the brain, and transmits them to other nerves.

The other nerves in the body are part of the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) nerves stimulate the body’s organs and muscles. The PNS has two parts:

  • The somatic, or voluntary, nervous system, which lets people react to environmental changes
  • The autonomic, or involuntary, nervous system, which works automatically to maintain homeostasis.

Agenesis/Dysgenesis Corpus Callosum

The corpus callosum consists of neural pathways in the brain that allow for communication between the brain’s two hemispheres. Absence (agenesis), partial formation or malformation (dysgenesis) of this pathway can lead to a number of symptoms, including:

  • Developmental delays
  • Poor coordination
  • Sensory processing problems
  • Social and problem-solving skills.

This pathway cannot be repaired or regenerated, but occupational, physical or speech therapy may help children affected with these conditions.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy (CP) is a condition that can be caused by congenital abnormalities in the brain. Types of cerebral palsy include:

  • Ataxic
  • Athetoid
  • Spastic
  • Mixed.

Each type of CP results in a set of specific symptoms. No cure has been found for cerebral palsy; however, a child’s quality of life and ability to function may be improved by services such as physical, occupational and speech therapy.

Neural Tube Defects

Neural tube defects are abnormalities in the formation of the neural tube. This is the rudimentary structure that develops into the brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects include:

  • Anencephaly
  • Chiari malformation
  • Encephaloceles
  • Hydranencephaly
  • Spina bifida.

The most severe neural tube defects are incompatible with life; affected infants die soon after birth. Others are treatable, often through surgery.

Treatment of Congenital Brain and Nervous System Defects

Treatment of congenital brain and spinal cord defects is complex, and depends on the location of the damage. Sometimes, the condition is so severe that the child may not live; in other cases, doctors and therapists can help affected children to function in daily life. In other cases, these birth defects may be treated surgically. Your child’s doctors can provide information about options for treating your child’s condition.


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