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What is Spina Bifida

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

What is spina bifida?

Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when a developing baby's spinal cord fails to develop properly, leaving a section of the spinal cord and spinal nerves exposed. The opening can be repaired through surgery, although nerve damage is irreparable. Spina bifida causes physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe depending on the type of defect. There are 3 types of spina bifida, Occulta, Meningocele, and Myelomeningocele.

1. Occulta

Occulta is the most common and the least severe form of spina bifida. When an infant is born with occulta, the skin covers the deformity on the spine. For many people with this type of spina bifida, the spot is hidden. (“Occulta” means “hidden” in Latin.) Occulta rarely causes symptoms, and some people diagnosed with the condition don't know they have it. In cases where symptoms are noticeable, they are usually extremely mild. Most infants born with spina bifida occulta go on to live normal and active lives.

2. Meningocele

Meningocele is a rare type of spina bifida. It is defined by a sac of spinal fluid that pokes through an opening in the spine. The spinal cord is not in this sac. There are no nerves that are affected in this type of spina bifida. Infants born with meningocele may have problems with functioning bladder and bowels, also known as neurogenic bladder and bowel.

3. Myelomeningocele

Myelomeningocele is a severe type of spina bifida in which part of the spinal cord and surrounding nerves push through the open bones in the spine. The membranes and the spinal nerves protrude at birth, forming a sac on the babys back . The exposed nervous system may become infected, therefore prompt surgery is needed after birth. Infants with myelomeningocele will grow up to have severe symptoms such as hydrocephalus, tethered spinal cord, meningitis, club feet, (neurogenic) bladder and bowel problems, decreased ability to feel sensation below the opening in the spine, and much much more. Spina bifida treatment consists of copious amounts of medical procedures such as shunts, urinary catheterization, enema, urinary diversion, never ending physical therapy etc. There are devices such as back, feet, or leg braces and surgery for the spine, legs, hips, and feet. Doctor’s or disciplines associated with these problems are neurologists, urologists, gastrologists, ortho surgeons, orthotists, neurosurgeons, neurological physical therapists, many nurses and a variety of specialists.

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