The cause of craniosynostosis is unknown. Genes may play a role. However, there is usually no family history of the condition.
One type that is passed down through families (inherited) can occur with other health problems, such as seizures, decreased intelligence, and blindness. Genetic disorders commonly linked to craniosynostosis include:
Apert syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones (craniosynostosis). This early fusion prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face. In addition, a varied number of fingers and toes are fused together (syndactyly).
Many of the characteristic facial features of Apert syndrome result from the premature fusion of the skull bones. The head is unable to grow normally, which leads to a sunken appearance in the middle of the face, bulging and wide-set eyes, a beaked nose, and an underdeveloped upper jaw leading to crowded teeth and other dental problems. Shallow eye sockets can cause vision problems. Early fusion of the skull bones also affects the development of the brain, which can disrupt intellectual development. Cognitive abilities in people with Apert syndrome range from normal to mild or moderate intellectual disability.
Individuals with Apert syndrome have webbed or fused fingers and toes. The severity of the fusion varies; at a minimum, three digits on each hand and foot are fused together. In the most severe cases, all of the fingers and toes are fused. Less commonly, people with this condition may have extra fingers or toes (polydactyly). Additional signs and symptoms of Apert syndrome can include hearing loss, unusually heavy sweating (hyperhidrosis), oily skin with severe acne, patches of missing hair in the eyebrows, fusion of spinal bones in the neck (cervical vertebrae), and recurrent ear infections that may be associated with an opening in the roof of the mouth (a cleft palate).
Distinctive facial features may include a flat nasal bridge, outside corners of the eyes that point downward (down-slanting palpebral fissures), low-set and abnormally shaped ears, underdeveloped upper and lower jaws, and abnormal eye shape. Some affected individuals also have dental abnormalities including small primary (baby) teeth. Vision problems also frequently occur.
Abnormalities of the fingers and toes include fusion of the skin between two or more fingers or toes (cutaneous syndactyly), unusually short fingers or toes (brachydactyly), or extra fingers or toes (polydactyly). In Carpenter syndrome, cutaneous syndactyly is most common between the third (middle) and fourth (ring) fingers, and polydactyly frequently occurs next to the big or second toe or the fifth (pinky) finger.
People with Carpenter syndrome often have intellectual disability, which can range from mild to profound. However, some individuals with this condition have normal intelligence. The cause of intellectual disability is unknown, as the severity of craniosynostosis does not appear to be related to the severity of intellectual disability.
Other features of Carpenter syndrome include obesity that begins in childhood, a soft out-pouching around the belly-button (umbilical hernia), hearing loss, and heart defects. Additional skeletal abnormalities such as deformed hips, a rounded upper back that also curves to the side (kyphoscoliosis), and knees that are angled inward (genu valgum) frequently occur. Nearly all affected males have genital abnormalities, most frequently undescended testes (cryptorchidism).
A few people with Carpenter syndrome have organs or tissues within their chest and abdomen that are in mirror-image reversed positions. This abnormal placement may affect several internal organs (situs inversus); just the heart (dextrocardia), placing the heart on the right side of the body instead of on the left; or only the major (great) arteries of the heart, altering blood flow.
Saethre-Chotzen syndrome is a genetic condition characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones (craniosynostosis). This early fusion prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face.
Most people with Saethre-Chotzen syndrome have prematurely fused skull bones along the coronal suture, the growth line that goes over the head from ear to ear. Other parts of the skull may be malformed as well. These changes can result in an abnormally shaped head, a high forehead, a low frontal hairline, droopy eyelids (ptosis), widely spaced eyes, and a broad nasal bridge. One side of the face may appear noticeably different from the other (facial asymmetry). Most people with Saethre-Chotzen syndrome also have small, unusually shaped ears.
The signs and symptoms of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome vary widely, even among affected individuals in the same family. This condition can cause mild abnormalities of the hands and feet, such as fusion of the skin between the second and third fingers on each hand and a broad or duplicated first (big) toe. Delayed development and learning difficulties have been reported, although most people with this condition are of normal intelligence. Less common signs and symptoms of Saethre-Chotzen syndrome include short stature, abnormalities of the bones of the spine (the vertebra), hearing loss, and heart defects
Crouzon syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones (craniosynostosis). This early fusion prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face.
Many features of Crouzon syndrome result from the premature fusion of the skull bones. Abnormal growth of these bones leads to wide-set, bulging eyes and vision problems caused by shallow eye sockets; eyes that do not point in the same direction (strabismus); a beaked nose; and an underdeveloped upper jaw. In addition, people with Crouzon syndrome may have dental problems and hearing loss, which is sometimes accompanied by narrow ear canals. A few people with Crouzon syndrome have an opening in the lip and the roof of the mouth (cleft lip and palate). The severity of these signs and symptoms varies among affected people. People with Crouzon syndrome are usually of normal intelligence.
Pfeiffer syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones (craniosynostosis). This early fusion prevents the skull from growing normally and affects the shape of the head and face. Pfeiffer syndrome also affects bones in the hands and feet.
Many of the characteristic facial features of Pfeiffer syndrome result from premature fusion of the skull bones. Abnormal growth of these bones leads to bulging and wide-set eyes, a high forehead, an underdeveloped upper jaw, and a beaked nose. More than half of all children with Pfeiffer syndrome have hearing loss; dental problems are also common.
In people with Pfeiffer syndrome, the thumbs and first (big) toes are wide and bend away from the other digits. Unusually short fingers and toes (brachydactyly) are also common, and there may be some webbing or fusion between the digits (syndactyly).
Pfeiffer syndrome is divided into three subtypes. Type 1, also known as classic Pfeiffer syndrome, has symptoms as described above. Most individuals with type 1 Pfeiffer syndrome have normal intelligence and a normal life span. Types 2 and 3 are more severe forms of Pfeiffer syndrome that often involve problems with the nervous system. The premature fusion of skull bones can limit brain growth, leading to delayed development and other neurological problems. Type 2 is distinguished from type 3 by the presence of a cloverleaf-shaped head, which is caused by more extensive fusion of bones in the skull.
While these conditions are quite serious, it is important to note that most children with craniosynostosis are treatable and otherwise healthy and have normal intelligence.