"Big Head Disease" Huh?

In this BBC article discussing the conterfeiting of baby formula, it states

Surely there’s a medical term for this? Obviously it’s caused by malnutrition, but why does malnutrition cause this?

Actually, “big head disease” is merely one symptom of that dreaded infantile disease, “Being A Baby Syndrome!” :eek: Other symptoms include occasional vomiting and slurred speech.

A cursory Google says “big head disease” is just what the residents of Fuyang call it.


It makes no sense to me. Malnutrition is associated with microcephaly, not macrocephaly.


I wonder if it might more aptly be described as ‘small body disease’

Soto’s Syndrome (aka Cerebral Gigantism).

Edema’s (ie swelling due to fluid accumulation) are noted side effects of protein calorie malnutrition in infants. Seen in Kwashiorkor (Protein-Calorie Malnutrition or Protein-Energy Malnutrition (“PEM”): ).

See Merck Manual- Protein-Energy Malnutrition -
A deficiency syndrome caused by the inadequate intake of macronutrients

True, but the swelling is in the lower limbs and abdomen (ascites) and not the head.

I don’t want to mislead.

Soto’s syndrome is congenital (genetic). To my knowledge, it can not be acquired. My post was only meant to give a name for a type of “big head disease”.

“Big Head” is a proper clinical condition… in veterinary science.

I have never heard it applied to humans but there is no particular reason I can see why humans couldn’t be affected.

In animals, primarily horses, big head is caused by malabsorption of calcium. Hypocalcaemia causes the calcium in the facial bones to be dissolved. The bones are then replaced with collagen which is far less dense than bones and therefore produces a noticeably swollen head and face. Of course the other bones are also affected but the swelling there is less noticeable, hence the name big head.

It is possible these children are suffering form prolonged calcium deficiency.

Maybe they mean “hydrocephaly.” I won’t post a link, since it might not be work-safe, but you can see some examples on “Google Images”.