Spina Bifida


Spina Bifida (sometimes abbreviated as S.B.) is a neural tube defect that is the most frequently occurring, permanently disabling birth defect in the United States. SB occurs from the failure of the fetus’ spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. Infants with SB often have an open lesion on their spine where significant permanent nerve and spinal cord damage has occurred. SB can range from a mild defect that causes no problems at all to a more serious defect which causes paralysis and loss of bowel/bladder control.

All women capable of becoming pregnant have a risk of having a child with Spina Bifida, and 90-95% of all babies born with it have no family history of the defect. The occurrence rate of SB in the United States is 1 out of every 1,000 infants, which results in approximately 4,000 babies each year. However, if parents already have a child with SB, the recurrence rate increases to 1 out of 100. The cause of SB is unknown, however, recent studies show that one factor that increases the risk of having a child with SB is having a low folic acid level before conception and during the first couple weeks of pregnancy. It is now recommended that women of childbearing age should consume 0.4 mg of folic acid daily.

Features and Characteristics

There are three types of SB, ranging from mild to severe. Spina Bifida occulta is an opening of one or more of the bones of the spinal column and since the spinal cord does not protrude, little or no damage is caused to the spinal cord. It can take the form of a dimple or a small hair growth on the back. It is the most mild form of SB and often times, this type of SB causes no disability at all.

Meningocele is a more serious type of SB in which the protective covering around the spinal cord pushes out through an opening in the spinal column, forming a sac or cyst. Early surgery can correct the problem with little or no damage to the spinal cord. This type of SB is the least common.

Myelomeningocele is the most severe type of Spina Bifida. In this form, not only does the protective covering get pushed out through an opening of the spinal column, but the spinal cord itself also protrudes, again, forming a sac or cyst. Spinal fluid may leak out and result in a serious infection. This type of SB usually results in paralysis of the lower limbs and problems with bladder/bowel control, although the actual effect depends on many things including the size and location of the lesion, and the degree of damage to the spinal cord and nerves.

What to Expect

With the latest medical advances, children born with Spina Bifida will live into adulthood and can become independent, productive adults. In fact, many adult individuals with Spina Bifida are college educated professionals in a variety of fields.