What does it mean if my head circumference is smaller than average and what should I do?

Symptom Database

Having a smaller head circumference than average can be a cause for concern, especially when it comes to brain development and overall health. In medical terms, this condition is known as microcephaly, which refers to a smaller than normal head size. In this article, we will explore what it means to have a small head circumference, its potential implications for brain development, and what steps can be taken to address this condition.

Understanding Microcephaly

Microcephaly is a condition characterized by a smaller than average head circumference. It can be present at birth or develop during infancy. The measurement of head size is an important indicator of brain growth and development. In most cases, microcephaly is caused by abnormal brain development, which can lead to various neurological and cognitive impairments.

Causes of Microcephaly

Microcephaly can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Genetic abnormalities
  • Infections during pregnancy, such as Zika virus, cytomegalovirus, or rubella
  • Exposure to harmful substances during pregnancy, such as alcohol or certain drugs
  • Malnutrition during pregnancy

It is important to note that microcephaly can vary in severity. Some individuals may have mild microcephaly with no significant impact on their daily lives, while others may experience more severe symptoms and developmental delays.

Implications for Brain Development

Microcephaly can have significant implications for brain development. The smaller head size often indicates that the brain has not developed to its full potential. This can result in various neurological abnormalities and cognitive impairments, including:

  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Delayed speech and language development
  • Motor coordination difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral problems

It is important to note that the severity of these symptoms can vary widely among individuals with microcephaly. Early intervention and appropriate medical care can help manage and minimize the impact of these challenges.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect that you or your child has a smaller head circumference, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional, preferably a pediatric neurologist. They will conduct a thorough evaluation, which may include:

  • Measurement of head circumference
  • Physical examination
  • Genetic testing
  • Brain imaging studies

The diagnosis of microcephaly is based on the measurement of head circumference compared to standardized growth charts. If microcephaly is confirmed, the underlying cause will be investigated to determine the appropriate treatment plan.

Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for microcephaly. However, early intervention and supportive therapies can greatly improve the quality of life for individuals with this condition. Treatment options may include:

  • Physical therapy to improve motor skills
  • Speech therapy to address speech and language delays
  • Occupational therapy to enhance daily living skills
  • Medications to manage seizures or other associated conditions

It is important to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses the specific needs of the person with microcephaly.


A smaller head circumference can be a sign of microcephaly, a condition that can have significant implications for brain development and overall health. It is important to seek medical evaluation and appropriate care if you suspect microcephaly in yourself or your child. While there is no cure for microcephaly, early intervention and supportive therapies can greatly improve outcomes and enhance the quality of life for individuals with this condition. Remember, each case of microcephaly is unique, and it is essential to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop a personalized treatment plan.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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