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
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
- 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,
Many children who have severe
spina bifida develop an allergy to latex (a type of rubber).
How is spina bifida diagnosed?