Craniopagus twins are conjoined twins that are fused at the cranium. Conjoined twins occur in about 10–20 babies in every million births in the United States. Among this small group, cephalic conjoining, or craniopagus twinning, represents the rarest of congenital abnormalities, accounting for 2–6% of all conjoined twins. Additionally, conjoined twins are genetically identical and always share the same sex. The union in craniopagus twins may occur on any portion of the cranium, but does not include either the face or the foramen magnum. The thorax and abdomen are separate and each twin has its own umbilicus and umbilical cord.
The union may involve the entire diameter of the head or only a small portion. This suggests that although many different kinds of vulnerabilities are already known in the scientific community, there are an infinite number of variations that can occur. Most of these variations are based on the rotation of one twin’s skull to the other and the different phenotype sub-groups of craniopagus twins are based on all these rotational conformations. Each of these factors (rotation, spot of union) affects the development of the brain, the vascular system within the brain and overall wellness of life both of the twins have outside the womb.
Relatively few craniopagus twins survive the perinatal period – approximately 40% of conjoined twins are stillborn and an additional 33% die within the immediate perinatal period, usually from organ abnormalities and failure. However 25% of craniopagus twins survive and can be considered for a surgical separation and several attempts occur yearly worldwide. In the last-half century, many advances in medicine including brain imaging, neuro-anesthesia and neurosurgical techniques have proven that a successful outcome is possible in certain circumstances following separation of total craniopagus twins.
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