Spina Bifida Birth Defects

Spina Bifida Birth Defects

Spina Bifida Birth Defects : Spina Bifida Occulta, Meningocele, Myelomeningocele

Spina bifida occurs in seven out of every 10,000 births in the U.S., and is the most common birth defect that causes life-long disability.  Known as a neural tube defect, spina bifida is caused by the incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube and occurs at the end of the first month of the pregnancy. In a normal pregnancy, the neural tube should close by the 28th day after conception.

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Forms of Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is classified by its severity.

Spina Bifida Occulta: The mildest form of spina bifida, and usually does not require treatment. Many people who have spina bifida occulta aren’t aware of the condition, unless it is discovered during an X-ray or other imaging test done for unrelated reasons.

Meningocele: While there are no exposed spinal cored or neural elements, children with meningocele will present with a cyst that allows spinal fluid and the meninges to protrude through an abnormal vertebral opening.   Children with meningocele may have few or no symptoms. The cyst will need to be surgically removed either before or after birth.

Myelomeningocele: The most severe form of spina bifida, myleomenigocele may result in partial or complete motor paralysis and sensory deficits within the parts of the body below the spinal opening.  In myleomenigocele, spinal cord/neural elements are exposed through the opening in the spine. These children may be unable to walk and may have problems with their urinary and bowel functions.

Complications from Spina Bifida

With the most severe form spina bifida, children may experience complications that can greatly reduce the quality of their lives, including:

  • Lack of normal bladder and bowel control
  • Partial or complete paralysis in the legs
  • Hydrocephalus (accumulation of fluid in the brain)
  • Meningitis (an infection of tissues surrounding the brain)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Problems with language and reading comprehension
  • Various skin problems
  • Death

Cause of Spina Bifida

It is not known exactly what causes spina bifida, but certain risk factors have been associated with the birth defect:

  • Taking antidepressants while pregnant
  • Taking epilepsy / migraine medication during pregnancy
  • Race
  • Family history of neural tube defects
  • Folate deficiency
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Increased body temperature
  • Inadequate prenatal care

Treatment of Spina Bifida

In most cases spina bifida is detected and is surgically treated before the child is born. Such a procedure takes place before the 26th week of pregnancy. Children who receive the fetal surgery generally need fewer shunts, and are less likely to need crutches or other walking devices. However, the procedure does pose risks to the mother and greatly increases the risk of premature delivery.

Even after fetal surgery, many babies will still need additional treatment after birth, depending on the severity of the condition. The most severe type of spina bifida, myleomenigocele, requires complex and often lifelong treatment and assistance. The quality of life that a child with myleomenigocele is able to enjoy depends at least partially on the speed, efficiency, and comprehensiveness with which that treatment is provided.