The brain condition known as cortical dysplasia is a congenital birth defect that stems from abnormal brain development in an unborn child. Because cortical dysplasia does not behave the same for every child, a doctor will develop a customised treatment plan in each case. To diagnose the condition, doctors will conduct a neurological examination and use imaging tests such as an MRI, CAT scan and electroencephalogram.
A congenital condition is one that affects a child while it is still in the womb and remains after birth. Cortical dysplasia is one such condition. In normal brain development, brain cells called neurons form in the core of the brain, then migrate to outer layers of the brain as the layers develop later in the pregnancy. In cases of cortical dysplasia, the neurons may not migrate to the correct place during development, causing some level of deformation in the brain's layers. In some cases, the layers do not completely develop.
The most common symptom of cortical dysplasia is epileptic seizures. The seizures normally recur with varied frequency and severity, depending on the child. If a child's seizures are associated with cortical dysplasia, the episodes will begin shortly after the child is born. If seizures begin later in life, then the episodes are not from cortical dysplasia. Children with cortical dysplasia may also have other symptoms, including an abnormally large head, slow reflexes in any part of the body and clumsiness when walking. They may suffer from psychological conditions, including mental retardation or abnormally aggressive or spontaneous behaviour. They may find it difficult to learn how to speak.
Treatment of cortical dysplasia symptoms differs based on severity of the condition and general physical health of the child. In some cases, a child with cortical dysplasia may only need anti-seizure medication to help prevent seizures. In more severe cases, doctors may determine the best treatment is to remove the damaged part of the brain. Removing part of the brain is a dangerous procedure that offers unpredictable results. Doctors will resort to surgery only when they are convinced there is no other treatment available.
For the most part, the onset of cortical dysplasia symptoms is random. Doctors are not able to pinpoint any one risk factor that could potentially increase chances a child will be born with the condition. In some cases, it may be that cortical dysplasia is found in the genetic make-up of a particular family member, but there is no definite connection yet between genetics and the condition.
While some symptoms of cortical dysplasia may be similar to epilepsy, they are not the same disease. Coritcal dysplasia is one potential cause of epilepsy, but it is not the sole cause. Many conditions can lead to epilepsy, including brain damage as the result of an accident, alcoholism or drug abuse. Epilepsy is not necessarily a congenital condition--as it can show up at any point in life--whereas, cortical dysplasia begins when the child is still developing in the womb.