Expert care for Dandy-Walker syndrome in Denver

At Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) in Denver, we provide extensive care for the diagnosis and treatment of Dandy-Walker syndrome. This congenital condition may be diagnosed during pregnancy by a maternal-fetal medicine specialist  or by your child’s physician following birth. Our perinatologists and pediatricians are here to develop the best care plan and treatment options for your child.

What is Dandy-Walker syndrome?

Dandy-Walker syndrome, also referred to as Dandy-Walker malformation, is a congenital abnormality affecting the development of the cerebellum. The central part of the cerebellum, called the vermis, in children with Dandy-Walker syndrome may either be abnormally positioned, unusually small or completely absent.

Conversely, children with fetal Dandy-Walker syndrome can also have an abnormally large, fluid-filled cavity between the brainstem and cerebellum, as well as a larger part of the skull where the brainstem and cerebellum sit.

Infants with Dandy-Walker syndrome may have difficulty draining excess cerebrospinal fluid, which can potentially lead to hydrocephalus in children .

Causes of Dandy-Walker syndrome

Many cases of fetal Dandy-Walker syndrome cannot be linked specifically to one particular cause. Parents are often concerned that the condition is hereditary, but evidence suggest Dandy-Walker syndrome results from a number of potential causes rather than a genetic identifier. Some of these potential causes include:

  • Chromosomal brain development during pregnancy
  • Exposure to certain medications or toxins during pregnancy
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Viral infections passed from the mother to the baby during pregnancy

Diagnosing Dandy-Walker syndrome

Fetal Dandy-Walker syndrome of the brain, which affects movement, behavior and cognitive ability, can be identified during pregnancy with an ultrasound, normally during the second or third trimester. After birth, and because Dandy-Walker syndrome affects the cerebellum, the doctor can diagnose this condition by recognizing symptoms that include:

  • Bulging at the back of the skull
  • Delays in motor and language skills (i.e. sitting up, walking and talking)
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination
  • Irregular eye movement
  • Increased head circumference
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Seizures
  • Vision and hearing difficulty

While Dandy-Walker syndrome symptoms usually present themselves before a child is one years old, it is important for both parents and physicians to keep an eye on developmental progress throughout early childhood.

Treatment and prognosis

If treatment for Dandy-Walker syndrome is needed, it usually involves treating the symptoms associated with each individual’s case. For patients displaying cognitive symptoms, treatment may include speech, physical and occupational therapy to assist in development during the early childhood years and into adolescence. If your child is having seizures, your physician may prescribe a number of medications to help alleviate those symptoms.

Children whose Dandy-Walker syndrome also includes hydrocephalus may need to have a shunt placed in the brain to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid.

Because each child’s case is different, the long-term prognosis for a child with Dandy-Walker syndrome varies. These can range from little to no impact on cognition and development, to developmental and impairment issues in more severe cases.