Spina Bifida - Treatment Overview
Treatment usually is not needed
for the mild form of
spina bifida and often not needed for meningocele.
Treatment of the most severe form of spina bifida (myelomeningocele ) depends
on the specific problems caused by the spinal defect and may include surgery,
physical therapy, and the use of braces and other
aids. Some children will have problems day to day, and others won't.
Most babies born with severe spina bifida live through childhood or
A team of health professionals
can help you address your child's needs. The team may include primary care
doctors, nurses, surgeons, and therapists.
Sometimes severe spina bifida can
be surgically corrected before a baby is born (prenatally). The pregnant
uterus is entered with surgical instruments and the
fetus's spine is repaired. This surgery, which is only done in specialized
medical centers, is relatively new. And it is not yet known how much benefit
this surgery provides in the long term. Early results suggest that this surgery may decrease the risk that the baby will need a drainage tube called a shunt to relieve pressure on the brain. The surgery may also improve the baby's ability to be active as he or she grows up. But it also poses considerable risk for the
fetus and mother and can cause premature birth. And if you want to have another baby, it will have to be delivered by cesarean section.1 Talk with your doctor about the advantages
and risks of this surgery.
If you know that you are
carrying a baby who has severe spina bifida, talk with your doctor about
whether to have a
cesarean section (C-section) or not. Try to have your
baby in a large medical center where neonatal (new baby) surgery can be
For the most severe form of spina bifida, initial treatment
includes surgery on the exposed nerves and tissues. Some babies who have
meningocele will also need surgery. Surgery is done to prevent spinal cord
infection and protect the exposed nerve tissues from injury. It is usually
performed within a few days after birth. Depending on the baby's health,
surgery may be delayed for up to 6 weeks.
Antibiotics are often given to prevent infection from
developing inside the spinal cord or brain (encephalitis or
Most babies with severe
spina bifida have increased fluid around the brain (hydrocephalus).
Treatment for hydrocephalus involves surgically installing a drainage tube
called a shunt that relieves pressure on the brain by draining excess fluid
into the abdomen. This keeps the swelling from causing further damage to the
brain. A shunt may be necessary for the rest of the child's life.
Some babies also have a condition called a Chiari malformation of the
brain. In a Chiari malformation, the lower part of the brain presses on the
bones of the lower part of the skull and the upper spine. Pressure on the brain
can sometimes be relieved with surgery to remove some of the bone.