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National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.


It is possible that the main title of the report Encephalocele is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.


  • cephalocele
  • cranium bifidum
  • craniocele

Disorder Subdivisions

  • cranial meningocele
  • encephalomeningocele
  • encephalocystomeningocele

General Discussion


Encephaloceles are rare birth defects associated with skull defects characterized by partial lacking of bone fusion leaving a gap through which a portion of the brain sticks out (protrudes). In some cases, cerebrospinal fluid or the membranes that cover the brain (meninges) may also protrude through this gap. The portion of the brain that sticks outside the skull is usually covered by skin or a thin membrane so that the defect resembles a small sac. Protruding tissue may be located on any part of the head, but most often affects the back of the skull (occipital area). Most encephaloceles are large and significant birth defects that are diagnosed before birth. However, in extremely rare cases, some encephaloceles may be small and go unnoticed. The exact cause of encephaloceles is unknown, but most likely the disorder results from the combination of several factors (multifactorial).


Encephaloceles are classified as neural tube defects. The neural tube is a narrow channel in the developing fetus that allows the brain and spinal cord to develop. The neural tube folds and closes early during pregnancy (third or fourth week) to complete the formation of the brain and spinal cord. A neural tube defect occurs when the neural tube does not close completely, which can occur anywhere along the head, neck or spine. The lack of proper closing of the neural tube can lead to a herniation process which appears as a pedunculated (having a stalk-like base) or sessile (attached directly to its base without a stalk) cystic lesion protruding through a defect in the cranial vault referred as encephalocele. They may contain herniated meninges and brain tissue (encephalocele or meningoencephalocele) or only meninges (cranial meningocele). Encephaloceles containing tissue from the brain and spinal cord are called encephalomyeloceles.


Children's Craniofacial Association

13140 Coit Road

Suite 517

Dallas, TX 75240


Tel: (214)570-9099

Fax: (214)570-8811

Tel: (800)535-3643



FACES: The National Craniofacial Association

PO Box 11082

Chattanooga, TN 37401

Tel: (423)266-1632

Fax: (423)267-3124

Tel: (800)332-2373



National Hydrocephalus Foundation

12413 Centralia Rd.

Lakewood, CA 90715-1653


Tel: (562)924-6666

Fax: (562)924-6666

Tel: (888)857-3434




P.O. Box 751112

Limekiln, PA 19535


Tel: (702)769-9264

Fax: (702)341-5351

Tel: (888)486-1209



Hydrocephalus Association

4340 East West Highway Ste 950

Bethesda, MD 20814


Tel: (301)202-3811

Fax: (301)202-3813

Tel: (888)598-3789



NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

P.O. Box 5801

Bethesda, MD 20824

Tel: (301)496-5751

Fax: (301)402-2186

Tel: (800)352-9424

TDD: (301)468-5981


Birth Defect Research for Children, Inc.

976 Lake Baldwin Lane

Orlando, FL 32814


Tel: (407)895-0802



Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center

PO Box 8126

Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126

Tel: (301)251-4925

Fax: (301)251-4911

Tel: (888)205-2311

TDD: (888)205-3223


For a Complete Report

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). A copy of the complete report can be downloaded free from the NORD website for registered users. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational therapies (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, go to and click on Rare Disease Database under "Rare Disease Information".

The information provided in this report is not intended for diagnostic purposes. It is provided for informational purposes only. NORD recommends that affected individuals seek the advice or counsel of their own personal physicians.

It is possible that the title of this topic is not the name you selected. Please check the Synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and Disorder Subdivision(s) covered by this report

This disease entry is based upon medical information available through the date at the end of the topic. Since NORD's resources are limited, it is not possible to keep every entry in the Rare Disease Database completely current and accurate. Please check with the agencies listed in the Resources section for the most current information about this disorder.

For additional information and assistance about rare disorders, please contact the National Organization for Rare Disorders at P.O. Box 1968, Danbury, CT 06813-1968; phone (203) 744-0100; web site or email

Last Updated:  1/5/2012

Copyright  1992, 2000, 2012 National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

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