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What is Cyclopia?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cyclopia is a complicated and rare form of holoprosencephaly. This condition affects how the front of the brain divides while the fetus is developing. Some kids with this condition have very few problems and significant brain function, but in cyclopia, the eyes have not developed normally, nor has the nose. Instead of two eyes, babies born with this may have a single eye almost in the middle of the face (like the mythical cyclops) and a nose that doesn’t function well, is nearly absent, and may be located above the eye instead of below it.

Most babies with this disorder don’t survive and they may have other severe defects that would make survival difficult, including seriously malformed hearts. When these children do survive, they may require some reconstructive surgery if possible. They are also typically present with other conditions that are challenging including mental retardation, paralysis, and epilepsy. Feeding a baby with this condition can be hard work too, and many of these infants quickly fall into failure to thrive status.

There is not always that much known about the causes of this disorder. However it is commonly noted that it may occur four times in 1000 births. This is actually not that rare, but many times fetal death could occur long before full term and children with this condition might not be noticed. There are pictures available in many places that show preserved fetuses with full expression of the defects. They’re easy to find, but not for those faint of heart.

One potential cause of cyclopia is a toxin found in the plant Veratrum Californicum. This may be mistaken for Hellebore, to which it is related. Hellebore is a common herbal treatment for mild discomfort in the first few months of pregnancy. It’s absolutely essential that women not use Veratrum Californicum instead because it does interfere with development and division of the front part of the brain.

It is not only humans that can have trouble with cyclopia. It occurs very often in animal populations. There are reports of kittens being born with it regularly. Invariably the kittens tend not to survive and usually are either born dead or die within the first few hours of life. Especially with the kitten, the poorly functioning nose may completely inhibit breathing and cause suffocation. Other mammals may have this condition too, and most often do not survive more than a few days after birth.

A few people have survived with cyclopia, but it is rare. Concerns exist about quality of life for the person who does beat the odds and is able to live with the condition. The very different configuration of the face is unfortunately likely to draw unwanted attention.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon998503 — On Jun 21, 2017

As far as I know, cyclopia is a lethal condition. No one survives for long with it. Other, less severe forms of the holoprosencephaly complex, of which cyclopia is the most severe, are compatible with survival, and sometimes fairly normal development, but most have such conditions as seizures, cleft lip/palate, close-set eyes and pituitary dysfunction. If it occurs as part of trisomy 13, extra fingers/toes, heart defects and other defects can be present.

By anon100592 — On Jul 30, 2010

Well of course you haven't seen anyone like this; the survival rate is next to nothing.

By anon87004 — On May 27, 2010

It's strange. no source mentions genetics, yet in the Rome population it was quite a common malformation.

By anon86392 — On May 25, 2010

@anon79900: "fetal death could occur long before full term and children with this condition might not be noticed."

Read just a little bit after the statistic.

And yes, environmental causes may contribute to this but have you considered that this condition may mainly be genetic?

By anon79900 — On Apr 25, 2010

O.k. let me say this: 4 in 1000 births can't be right because I've never seen someone like that and I've seen more than 1,000 people.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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