Anencephaly occurs when the "cephalic" or head end of the neural tube fails to close, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp. Anencephaly is invariably associated with death as a stillbirth, a neonatal death, or occasionally a post-neonatal death.
A health care provider usually detects this condition during routine prenatal testing and ultrasound. Otherwise, it is recognized at birth. If anencephaly is detected before birth, further counseling will be needed.
The risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect is dramatically reduced if a woman takes the recommended dose of folic acid before becoming pregnant and during the first few months of pregnancy. Folic acid is a B vitamin that can be found in enriched grain products and vitamin supplements. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical organizations recommend that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Women who have had previous children with a neural tube defect may be advised to take a higher dose before future pregnancies.