The skull is made up of several plates of bone which meet at gaps (sutures), called the sagittal, coronal, metopic and lambdoid. The sutures allow the bones of the skull to overlap slightly so that the baby’s head can pass through the birth canal. The sutures also enable the skull to expand to accommodate the brain which grows rapidly during the first two years of life.
Normally, sutures join (fuse) during adulthood, when brain growth has finished. However, in a small number of babies one or more of the sutures fuses before birth or early in childhood resulting in a condition called craniosynostosis’.
When the suture is fused, bone growth ceases at the fused suture , and is re-directed to the unfused sutures, leading to the skull assuming an unusual shape. The type of shape will depend on which suture is affected.
We generally talk about two main types of craniosynostosis:
Non-syndromic (sometimes referred to as ‘single suture’ craniosynostosis) - usually, but not always, involving one suture, and usually without any problems affecting other parts of the skull, face or body. There may or may not be an underlying genetic cause.
Syndromic (sometimes referred to as ‘complex’ or ‘multi suture’ craniosynostosis) - where there are physical features or problems affecting other parts of the body, which follow recognisable patterns. There is often an underlying genetic cause.
It is estimated that craniosynostosis affects between 1 in 1,800 and 1 in 2,000 babies in the UK. Around 75% of these will be non- syndromic, and the other 25% syndromic.
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