Spina Bifida

What is it?

Spina Bifida is a neural tube defect involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings. It occurs when the foetus’s spine fails to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. Infants born with Spina Bifida sometimes have an open lesion on their spine where damage to the nerves and spinal cord has occurred.

The spinal opening can be surgically repaired shortly after birth, but the nerve damage cannot be reversed and results in varying degrees of paralysis of the lower limbs. Even when there is no lesion present there may be improperly formed or missing vertebrae and this comes with nerve damage. In addition to physical and mobility difficulties, learning disability often accompanies the condition.

Types of Spina Bifida:

  • Myelomeningocele – the spinal cord and its protective covering (the meninges) protrude from an opening in the spine
  • Meningocele – the spinal cord develops normally but the meninges and spinal fluid protrude from a spinal opening
  • Closed Neural Tube Defects – development of the spinal cord is affected by malformations of the fat, bone, or meninges
  • Occulta – one (or more) vertebra is malformed and covered by a layer of skin

Spina Bifida may also cause bowel and bladder complications, and many children with this condition have Hydrocephalus – an excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, resulting in a larger than normal head.

How is Spina Bifida Treated?

There is unfortunately no cure for Spina Bifida because nerve tissue cannot be repaired. Treatment for the various effects may include surgery, medication, and physiotherapy. Many individuals with this condition will need assistive devices such as braces, crutches, or wheelchairs. Ongoing therapy, medical care, and/or surgical treatments may be necessary to prevent and manage complications.

Surgery is performed within hours of the baby’s birth in order to close the spinal opening. This reduces the risk of infection and protects existing spinal cord function.

What is the Prognosis?

Children with Spina Bifida can lead relatively active lives. Prognosis, activity, and participation depend on the number and severity of abnormalities and associated personal and environmental factors. Many children with the disorder have normal intelligence and can walk (usually with assistive devices). If learning problems develop, early educational intervention and therapy is helpful.

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