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Spina Bifida - Topic Overview

A pregnant woman can have a blood test (maternal serum triple or quadruple screen) and a fetal ultrasound to check for spina bifida and other problems with the fetus.

If test results suggest a birth defect, she can choose to have an amniocentesis. This test helps confirm if spina bifida exists. But the test also has risks, such as a chance of miscarriage.

After birth, doctors can tell if a baby has spina bifida by how the baby’s back looks. The doctor may do an X-ray, an MRI, or a CT scan to see if the defect is mild or severe.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on how severe the defect is. Most children with spina bifida have only a mild defect and may not need treatment. But a child with a severe defect may need surgery. If your child has problems from nerve damage, he or she may need a brace or a wheelchair, physical therapy, or other aids.

There are things you can do to support your child:

  • Help your child be active and eat healthy foods.
  • Go to all scheduled doctor visits.
  • Talk to your doctor about early treatment. Most children who have spina bifida and their parents work with people such as physical therapists or occupational therapists starting soon after the baby is born. Therapists can teach parents and caregivers how to do exercises and activities with the child.
  • Keep your child away from latex products if he or she has a latex allergy.
  • If your child has bladder control problems, help him or her use a catheter each day. It can help prevent infection and kidney damage in your child.
  • If your child has little or no feeling in the limbs and can't sense pain, he or she may get injured and not know it. You may need to check your child’s skin each day for cuts, bruises, or other sores.
  • When your child is ready to go to school, talk with teachers and other school workers. Public schools have programs for people ages 3 through 21 with special needs.
  • Take good care of yourself so you have the energy to enjoy your child and attend to his or her needs.
  • Ask for help from support groups, family, and friends when you need it.

How can you prevent spina bifida?

Before and during pregnancy, a woman can help prevent spina bifida in her child.

  • Get plenty of folic acid each day. Eat foods rich in folic acid, such as fortified breakfast cereals and breads, spinach, and oranges. Your doctor may recommend that you also take a daily vitamin with folic acid or a folic acid supplement.
  • If you take medicine for seizures or acne, talk with your doctor before you get pregnant. Some of these medicines can cause birth defects.
  • Don't drink alcohol while you are pregnant. Any amount of alcohol may affect your baby’s health.
  • Don't let your body get too hot in the first weeks of pregnancy. For example, don't use a sauna or take a very hot bath. And treat high fevers right away. The heat could raise your baby’s risk for spina bifida

All foods made from grains and sold in the United States have folic acid added. It helps prevent children from being born with spina bifida.

Learning about spina bifida:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Living with spina bifida:

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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.
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