A new guideline from the American Academy of Neurology says that kids whose head size is smaller than that of 97 percent of children may be at an increased risk of neurologic and cognitive problems, and should be screened for such problems.
Published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the guideline has been developed in full collaboration with the Child Neurology Society.
Microcephaly is the medical term used for the condition in which kids have small head sizes. In some cases, it is not present at birth, but develops by the time a child becomes two.
While microcephaly is not a disease, it is an important sign that may point to other conditions.
"The evidence suggests that children with microcephaly are more likely to have certain neurologic conditions, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy, as well as mental retardation and eye and ear disorders," said lead guideline author Dr. Stephen Ashwal, a child neurologist at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in Loma Linda, California, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.
"In fact, the evidence shows that children with microcephaly are at risk for developmental delay and learning disorders. For these reasons, it is necessary for doctors to recognize microcephaly and check the child for these associated problems, which often require special treatments. This is an important recommendation, as it allows doctors to provide more accurate advice and counseling to families who have a child with microcephaly," he added.
The expert says that doctors may also consider screening for coexisting conditions, such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
"Forty percent of children with microcephaly also have epilepsy, 20 percent also have cerebral palsy, 50 percent also have mental retardation, and 20 to 50 percent also have eye and ear problems," said Ashwal.
Brain scans like an MRI or CT scan as well as genetic testing may be useful in identifying the causes of microcephaly.
Ashwal says even if a small head size runs in families, it is still important to see a doctor due to the risk of other conditions.
Stressing the importance of telling the doctor about any family history of neurologic disease, Ashwal said: "It should be noted though, that some children with small head size have normal development and do not develop any related conditions or problems."