Spina Bifida- Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Types, and Treatment Meaning

February 2021

Spina bifida refers to a condition that is apparent at birth. It refers to the incomplete closing of the spine. The spine and the membranes of the spine are not covered completely by the spinal column. This leaves a portion of the spinal cord and the nerves exposed. However, it occurs during the third and fourth week of pregnancy itself. Therefore, the child would be born with a part of the spinal cord exposed in the back.


 Spina bifida is a common yet permanently disabling congenital disability. However, this condition's prevalence has been decreasing due to preventative measures that expectant mothers follow before and during pregnancy. Prenatal testing is also a reason for the reduction in this condition. While genetics and environmental factors are considered major causes for spina bifida, studies indicate that spina bifida occurs in babies whose parents do not have a family history in 95% of the cases. However, it is believed that women taking anticonvulsant medications to treat seizures and diabetes can give birth to a child with spina bifida.

Symptoms and types

 The symptoms vary depending on where and to what extent the structural development is affected. There are three possible subtypes. They include

  • Occulta

 This is referred to as the hidden Spina bifida. This is a condition where the defect in the spinal cord is minimal. It is just a small gap in the vertebrae that make up the spine. The condition does not affect the child in any way and might not be evident unless an X-ray is performed for some other unrelated reason. Bowel or bladder dysfunction, weakness of the legs, scoliosis, back pain, etc., may manifest in one in 1000 individuals.

  • Meningocele

This condition is characterized by a fluid-filled sac that is evident in the back. This means that the bones around the spine do not cover it adequately, and the meninges that are pushed outside through the opening is the fluid-filled sac that is evident. This is a rare type of spina bifida and might warrant surgery.

  • Myelomeningocele

This is the most severe form of Spina Bifida and accounts for 75% of the cases. In this condition, a portion of the spinal cord itself protrudes at the back. The sac that is exposed might sometimes be covered with skin. There might also be cases where the tissues and nerves are completely exposed. The neurological disabilities that a child with this condition might exhibit depend on the location and the defect's extent. Sometimes it might be restricted to bowel and bladder dysfunction. In severe cases, it can lead to total paralysis too.

  • ┬áTreatment

 The defect can be detected during the maternal screening tests. Once it is detected, it is important to seek multidisciplinary care. The treatment involves ways and means to reduce the occurrence of such a condition. Therefore, prenatal care involves taking folic acid every day before conception itself when you are planning to have a baby. If the problem is indeed detected during the maternal screening process, fetal surgery or infant surgery are the available options. While fetal surgery offers mixed results, infant surgery completed within 48 hours after the baby is born is considered effective.

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