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The information contained on this page is provided as general health information and is not intended to substitute as medical advice and direction from your physician or health care provider. Please direct any questions related to your health care provider. In an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency center.


Sutures - separated

Definition

Separated sutures are abnormally wide spaces in the bony joints of the skull in an infant.

Alternative Names

Separation of the sutures

Considerations

The skull of an infant or young child is made up of bony plates that allow for growth. The borders where these plates come together are called sutures or suture lines.

In an infant only a few minutes old, the pressure from delivery may compress the head. This makes the bony plates overlap at the sutures and creates a small ridge. This is normal in newborns. In the next few days, the baby's head expands. The overlap disappears and the edges of the bony plates meet edge-to-edge. This is the normal position.

Diseases or conditions that cause an abnormal increase in the pressure within the head can cause the sutures to spread apart. These separated sutures can be a sign of pressure within the skull (increased intracranial pressure).

Separated sutures may be associated with bulging fontanelles. If intracranial pressure is increased a lot, there may be large veins over the scalp.

Causes

The problem may be caused by:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if your child has:

  • Separated sutures, bulging fontanelles, or very obvious scalp veins
  • Redness, swelling, or discharge from the area of the sutures

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The provider will perform a physical exam. This will include examining the fontanelles and scalp veins and feeling (palpating) the sutures to find out how far they are separated.

The provider will ask questions about the child's medical history and symptoms, including:

  • Does the child have other symptoms (such as abnormal head circumference)?
  • When did you first notice the separated sutures?
  • Does it seem to be getting worse?
  • Is the child otherwise well? (For example, are eating and activity patterns normal?)

The following tests may be performed:

Although your provider keeps records from routine checkups, you might find it helpful to keep your own records of your child's development. Bring these records to your provider's attention if you notice anything unusual.

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Skull of a newborn

References

Ball JW, Dains JE, Flynn JA, Solomon BS, Stewart RW. Head and neck. In: Ball JW, Dains JE, Flynn JA, Solomon BS, Stewart RW, eds. Siedel's Guide to Physical Examination. 8th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:chap 10.

Carlo WA. The newborn infant. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 94.