Spina bifida is a birth defect that causes problems with the development of the baby’s spine. In a baby with spina bifida, the spinal cord doesn’t fully close, and this can cause a number of developmental problems with the baby’s brain, spinal cord and other parts of the body. Spina bifida outcomes include nerve damage, some form of paralysis to the lower limbs and learning disabilities, among other problems.
Types of Spina Bifida
There are four types of spina bifida, ranging from the mildest (spina bifida occulta), which usually causes no problems for people, to the most severe (myelomeningocele), which usually causes severe disabilities, fluid on the brain and potential brain damage. Another form of spina bifida is occult spinal dysraphism, which is noticeable as a dimple on the lower back of the baby and causes problems as a child grows. There is also meningocele, which causes the spinal cord to push through the spine and often causes minor disabilities.
Prevention and Treatment
It seems that folic acid plays a role in preventing spina bifida, so women who might become pregnant or are trying to become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid in a supplement form each day. This should continue through the first three months of pregnancy. If a woman has spina bifida, has a sibling with spina bifida or has previously had a child with the disease, she may be advised to take even more folic acid. It’s best to ask a doctor about how much to take in those cases.
Spina bifida occulta rarely causes problems or needs treatment, but the other forms of spina bifida are usually treated with surgery very early in the baby’s life. This surgery can prevent future complications and problems as the baby continues to grow and develop, but many children with spina bifida have disabilities and learning difficulties that cannot be cured.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; Spina Bifida Association