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Health Questions

Fontanelles - enlarged

Definition

Enlarged fontanelles are larger than expected soft spots for the age of a baby.

The skull of an infant or young child is made up of bony plates that allow for growth of the skull. The borders at which these plates intersect are called sutures or suture lines. The spaces where these connect, but are not completely joined, are called soft spots or fontanelle (fontanel or fonticulus).

Alternative Names

Soft spot - large

Considerations

Fontanelles allows for growth of the skull during an infant's first year. Slow or incomplete closure of the skull bones is most often the cause of a wide fontanelle.

For general information, see fontanelles.

Causes

Larger than normal fontanelles are most commonly caused by:

  • Down syndrome
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR)
  • Premature birth

Rarer causes:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you think that the fontanelles on your baby's head are excessively large, talk to your health care provider. Most of the time, this sign will have been seen during the baby's first medical exam.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

An enlarged large fontanelle is almost always found by the health care provider during a physical exam.

  • The health care provider will examine the child and measure the child's head around the largest area.
  • The doctor may also turn off the lights and shine a bright light over the child's head.
  • Your baby's soft spot will be regularly checked at each well-child visit.

Blood tests and imaging tests of the head may be done.


Review Date: 11/7/2011
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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