Spina bifida is a term that means “split spine” is a condition that happens when the brain, spinal cord or the membranes that cover them (meninges) is not completely developed.
What are the causes of spina bifida?
The cause of spina bifida is still unknown. It is associated with genetic, nutritional and environmental factors. Research studies indicate that a key factor may be a lack of folic acid — a common B vitamin — in a pregnant woman’s diet. This is one of the reasons why a daily multi-vitamin that contains folic acid is advised for all women of child-bearing age.
How is spina bifida diagnosed?
In some of the cases, spina bifida can be diagnosed prior to birth with an alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) blood test or through imaging tests like prenatal ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
When spina bifida is suspected in babies or older children, it may be diagnosed using a spinal ultrasound or MRI.
What are the symptoms of spina bifida?
The symptoms of spina bifida may vary depending upon the type of spina bifida a child has.
Many children suffering with spina bifida don’t have any symptoms or only have mild symptoms. These may include:
- a small clump of hair or a dimple or birthmark on the spine
- chronic constipation with no other cause
- chronic urinary or bowel incontinence with no other cause
- chronic urinary tract infections
- leg or back pain
- toe walking
Some children have symptoms that are noticeable at birth, like an opening in the spine or a sac that protrudes from the spine.
What are the treatment options for spina bifida?
Treatment for spina bifida varies greatly depending on the type of spina bifida the child has, and his or her specific symptoms. In general, children with more severe types of spina bifida need more treatment than those with less severe types.
Possible treatments a child may need include:
- physical therapy (PT) or occupational therapy (OT)
- an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for cognitive problems
- surgery for a tethered spinal cord
- an ETV/CPC procedure or shunting for hydrocephalus
- bladder augmentation
- reconstructive bladder surgery
- bowel surgery
- bracing or orthopedic surgery
- spine surgery for scoliosis