All about spina bifida

Spina bifida is a serious birth defect that affects the spine. Normally during pregnancy, a structure called the neural tube, which eventually forms the brain and spinal cord, closes completely. In cases of spina bifida, the bones of the spine fail to close, leaving part of the spine exposed. Cases of spina bifida range from mild to severe and, most often, surgery is used to correct the problem. In some cases, however, surgery cannot completely resolve the problem.

What causes it?

Doctors aren’t really sure what causes spina bifida, but it might be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental causes. Many researchers also believe that a lack of folic acid in the pregnant mum’s diet may be responsible for most neural tube defects.

Is it serious?

Spina bifida is very serious. It can lead to severe physical and mental disabilities.

Can I prevent it?

Doctors believe that getting an adequate amount of folic acid before and during pregnancy is important to prevent spina bifida and other birth defects. Talk with your doctor about taking folic acid supplements when you are planning on becoming pregnant.

How do I know if my child has spina bifida?

Spina bifida is most often diagnosed before birth during a routine ultrasound. This is beneficial because treatment within the first twenty four hours after birth, for those who need it, is most successful. The signs of spina bifida range from a small dimple or lump of fat on the outside of the skin above an abnormal separation of the spine (mild spina bifida), to a small bulge of spinal nerves under the skin (moderate spina bifida), to a sac containing spinal nerves and membranes outside the body (also called open spina bifida or myelomeningocele).

How do I treat spina bifida?

Some very mild cases of spina bifida are asymptomatic (have no symptoms) and may require no treatment. For mild to severe spina bifida, surgery may help correct the problem. However, even after surgery, children who suffer from severe spina bifida may be at a higher risk for paralysis, bowel and bladder problems, seizures, mental retardation, and other problems.

Should I call the doctor?

Your doctor will diagnose and treat your child’s spina bifida. He will also discuss long-term care options with you.

What you need to know about spina bifida

  • Spina bifida is a serious birth defect that affects the spine and spinal nerves.
  • Cases of spina bifida range from mild to severe.
  • Spina bifida is thought to be caused by a lack of folic acid before and during pregnancy.
  • Folic acid supplements during pregnancy may help prevent many birth defects.
  • Surgery may help correct spina bifida.

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