Neurological disorders or diseases are, according to the World Health Organization, “diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system. In other words, the brain, spinal cord, cranial nerves, peripheral nerves, nerve roots, autonomic nervous system, neuromuscular junction, and muscles. These disorders include epilepsy, Alzheimer disease and other dementias, cerebrovascular diseases including stroke, migraine and other headache disorders, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, neuroinfections, brain tumours, traumatic disorders of the nervous system due to head trauma, and neurological disorders as a result of malnutrition”. The above consist mostly of age related neurological disorders as well as infections. Congenital diseases aren’t mentioned above.
Many bacterial (i.e. Mycobacterial tuberculosis, Neisseria meningitides), viral (i.e. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Enteroviruses, West Nile Virus, Zika), fungal (i.e. Cryptococcus, Aspergillus), and parasitic (i.e. malaria, Chagas) infections can affect the nervous system. Neurological symptoms may occur due to the infection itself, or due to an immune response. But just like before, these are bacterial and fungal infections and are not congenital.
Congenital diseases or disorders are those that occur at birth. Meaning that the child is born with the condition. Believe it or not, there are a host of neurological disorders like this that happen ever so frequently and they are the subject of this article.
The most common congenital neurological disorders and diseases are:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Chiari Malformation
- Spina Bifida
For this article, we will be focusing on the conditions Anencephaly, Cerebral Palsy, Microcephaly and Spina Bifida as they are most common.
By nature, this disorder generally occurs in children and presents itself at birth. It tends to affect the brain and bones of the skull. Here, the brain is usually not formed fully, lacking parts if the cerebrum which is the area of the brain used in thinking, seeing, hearing, touch and movement. In most cases, there is also no bone at the back of the head. Anencephaly is a neural tube defect and has a prevalence rate of 3 out of every 10,000 pregnancies in the United States every year. Since many of the pregnancies with children carrying this condition ends in miscarriages, the exact number of kids with the condition is unknown.
The cause of this disorder starts to present in the early days themselves. You see, the brain and spinal cord begin life as flat plate of cells. This plate rolls into a tube called the neural tube and is completely formed 28 to 32 days after a mother conceives. If all or part of the tube fails to close, an opening is left behind and this is called a neural tube defect. These defects may be caused by genes passed on from parents or by environmental factor alike.
This disorder is also abbreviated as CP and is a neurological disorder that causes problems with the normal motor functioning of the individual. It affects how the child’s brain and their muscles communicate, thereby affecting functions such as body movement, reflexes, posture, balance etc. CP ranges in severity but usually doesn’t get worse or even better over time. Most kids with cerebral palsy are taught how to manage and live full lives with their condition.
Causes of CP is usually abnormal development of or damage to those areas of the brain that control motor function. This damage can occur before or during birth. The exact cause of this damage is not clearly known but experts have posited that it may be due to the following:
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Genetic condition
- Bleeding in the brain
- Severe jaundice
- Head injury
This is a cranial abnormality. It is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than normal. It is most often present at birth and most children that suffer this illness have a small brain and some form of intellectual disability.
Microcephaly could be caused by complications during pregnancy. This complications could in turn be as a result of:
- Not enough vitamins and nutrients
- Infection with cytomegalovirus, rubella, varicella virus, Zika virus, or toxoplasma
- Prescription medicine use
- Illegal drug use
- Drinking alcohol
- Untreated phenylketonuria
In other cases as well, the condition could be caused by the child inheriting an abnormal gene. By nature, Microcephaly is an autosomal gene disorder meaning both boy and girl children could be affected. It is also a recessive gene disorder meaning that two copies of the gene (one from each parent) are needed to pass the disorder down to a fetus.
This is a congenital birth defect which presents itself in the form of problems with the spinal cord and I surrounding nerves. Usually, it causes part of the spinal cord and the areas surrounding it to form outside the body and this defect can happen anywhere along the spine. This is also, like Anencephaly, a neural tube defect.
The most common form of Spinal Bifida Is Spinal Bifida Occulta. Here the spinal cord and surrounding tissue stay inside the baby but the lower spine doesn’t form as it normally is supposed to. The affected area might have a dimple, patch or mark on the skin above or no mark at all. Other severe forms of this disorder result in an part of the spine forming outside.
The cause is exactly the same as Anencephaly.
Do Congenital Disorders Have anything to do with Genitalia?
No they do not. They are simply conditions that occur at birth
Can any of these conditions also occur later in life or are they exclusively congenital?
Yes they can in fact. In the case of Cerebral Palsy, there is a form known as acquired Cerebral Palsy and this happens after birth as a result of infection or head injury
Does the Mother’s habits play a role in contracting these disorders?
Yes. In addition to genes, the mother’s habits and exposure to certain stressors and organisms (such as in the case of Zika Virus and Hydrocephaly) can play a huge role.
Can they be treated?
In short, no. Many die before a couple weeks and those that survive have to be taught to live with their condition, in addition to being catered for.
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