Spina bifida or ‘neural tube defect’ is a type of birth defect that occurs when the vertebrae don’t properly form around part of the spinal cord of an infant. The condition can be mild or severe, the mild form being most common and usually doesn’t need treatment or cause any problems. Spina bifida cannot be seen on the spine although sometimes there may a birthmark, a dimple, or a hairy patch on the site. Most people are unaware that they have this defect until they have a back X-ray for some reason.
A more severe form called “meningocele” is rare and a bulge may appear on the spine were leaked fluid from the vertebrae pushes against the skin of the back. In most cases, these are the only symptoms.
The most severe form is called myelomeningocele and is very rare. Part of the nerves in the spine is pushed out of the spinal canal and often become damaged. There may be a bulge on the skin and in some infant cases the skin opens up to expose the nerves.
What Are The Causes Of Spina Bifida?
The exact cause is unknown although experts are of the opinion that the environment and genes play a part in causing this condition. Genetically, a woman who has had one child with spina bifida is more likely to have a second child with the same condition. Spina bifida is also more prevalent in babies whose mothers were obese or had diabetes during pregnancy.
Spina Bifida Symptoms
Symptoms depend on the severity of the condition and most children who have a mild form never have any problems. Children with the more severe meningocele form also do not have any symptoms. Only children with the most severe form of spina bifida, myelomeningocele, may have brain and spinal issues that can cause serious problems. Symptoms of myelomeningocele include:
– Little or no sensation in the feet, legs or arms and an inability to move these parts of the body.
– Bowel or bladder problems with leaking urine and problems passing stools.
– A curvature of the spine called scoliosis.
– Hydrocephalus or fluid buildup in the brain that may cause learning problems, seizures or vision problems.
Children with myelomeningocele usually need surgery to correct the defect and sometimes surgery can be done before birth. Surgery will also be done on children with hydrocephalus to insert a shunt, or drainage tube to drain the excess fluid and relieve pressure on the brain. This will prevent swelling from causing brain damage. Some children may require a wheelchair, a brace or other medical aids. Children with bladder problems may need a catheter to be inserted in order to prevent kidney infection and damage. Children with bowel problems need to start working with medical assistants to manage bowel care.
Physical and occupational therapists work with parents and children who have severe spina bifida soon after birth and teach parents and caregivers to do activities and exercises with their children.