Our surgeons are among the most experienced in the world in treating an array of neurosurgical conditions.
Read about our surgical team >
An encephalocele is a very rare birth defect in which nervous tissue protrudes through openings in the skull. This forms a skin-covered sac outside the skull.
Less frequently, only a thin membrane covers the sac, increasing its vulnerability.
The contents of the sac can vary, and may include:
Doctors typically can diagnose encephaloceles during a prenatal ultrasound or at birth.
The prognosis for this condition depends on the location of the sac and its contents. The outlook is most favorable when the sac does not contain any functional neural tissue.
The treatment for an encephalocele is surgery. At UPMC, the preferred surgical treatment for encephaloceles of the skull base is the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This innovative, minimally invasive technique uses the nose and nasal cavities as natural corridors to access hard-to-reach or previously inoperable tumors. Benefits of EEA include:
EEA has proven safe and effective in children. More than 100 children have been treated by UPMC skull base surgeons using EEA — more than at any other neurosurgery center in the world.
Ultrasound images of the fetus can reveal the presence of a herniated, fluid-filled sac outside the skull.
Encephaloceles that go undetected during gestation usually are diagnosed at birth by observation of the deformity.
Other developmental disorders usually accompany encephalocele. Once diagnosed, doctors will search for these other conditions or abnormalities, such as:
In rare cases, a small encephalocele in the nasal cavity can remain undetected for years, even into adulthood.
An MRI is the preferred test to identify the contents of the sac. This is essential for determining the best treatment for an encephalocele.
Surgery to remove the herniated sac and repair the opening in the skull is the only treatment for an encephalocele.
If the encephalocele is covered by normal skin rather than a thin membrane, surgery may be postponed until the child is older.
In most cases, any neural tissue contained in the sac is abnormal and surgeons will remove it. However, if healthy neural tissue is present in the sac, one of the goals of surgery is to preserve it.
The surgical approach depends on the location and contents of the encephalocele. If the sac does not contain vital nervous tissue, surgeons simply remove the encephalocele and repair the opening in the skull.
Encephaloceles of the skull base may be approached directly using the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This state-of-the-art, minimally invasive approach allows surgeons to access the tumor through the natural corridor of the nose, without making an open incision. Surgeons then remove the encephalocele through the nose and nasal cavities.
EEA offers the benefits of no incisions to heal, no disfigurement, and a faster recovery time.
How can we help you?
Schedule anappointment >
Ask a question >
Request our expertopinion >
1-877-986-9862(within the U.S.)
Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by
A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.
For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.
UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.
Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.
For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com