Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Baby

Font Size

Spina Bifida - Topic Overview

What is spina bifida?

Spina bifida is a birth defect. Most children who have spina bifida do not have problems from it. It occurs when the bones of the spine (vertebrae) do not form properly around part of the baby’s spinal cord. It can affect how the skin on the back looks. And in severe cases, it can make walking or daily activities hard to do without help.

The disease can be mild or severe.

  • The mild form is the more common form. It usually does not cause problems or need treatment. You can't see the defect. So most people don't know they have it until they get a back X-ray for another reason.
  • The severe forms are less common. There are two types:
    • Meningocele (say "muh-NIN-juh-seel"). Fluid leaks out of the spine and pushes against the skin. You may see a bulge in the skin. In many cases, there are no other symptoms.
    • Myelomeningocele (say "my-uh-loh-muh-NIN-juh-seel"). Although this is the most rare and severe form of spina bifida, it is the form most people mean when they say "spina bifida." Part of the spinal nerves push out of the spinal canal, and you may see a bulge in the skin. The nerves are often damaged, which can cause problems with walking, bladder or bowel control, and coordination. In some babies, the skin is open and the nerves are exposed.

What causes spina bifida?

The exact cause of this birth defect is not known. Experts think that genes and the environment are part of the cause. For example, women who have had one child with spina bifida are more likely to have another child with the disease. Women who are obese or who have diabetes are also more likely to have a child with spina bifida.

What are the symptoms?

Your child’s symptoms will depend on how severe the defect is. With a mild defect, your child may have no symptoms or problems. Or your child might have a dimple, a birthmark, or a hairy patch on his or her back.

In severe cases, you may see nerves coming out of your child’s back or swelling on the spine. A child with a severe defect may have nerve damage that affects daily living. The child may have little or no feeling in the legs, feet, or arms. And he or she may not be able to move those parts of the body.

Children with a severe defect are sometimes born with fluid buildup in the brain (hydrocephalus). They may also have this problem after birth. It can cause seizures, intellectual disability, or sight problems. Some children also get a curve in the spine, such as scoliosis.

Many children who have severe spina bifida develop an allergy to latex (a type of rubber).

How is spina bifida diagnosed?

1|2

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 21, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

baby standing in crib
Slideshow
changing baby in nursery
Article
 
baby acne
Tool
baby being fed
Slideshow
 

mother holding baby at night
ARTICLE
mother with sick child
QUIZ
 
baby with pacifier
VIDEO
Track Your Babys Vaccines
TOOL
 
Baby Napping 10 Dos And Donts
Slideshow
Woman holding feet up to camera
Article
 
Father kissing newborn baby
Article
baby gear slideshow
Slideshow