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Spina Bifida

Symptoms, risk factors and treatment of spina bifida

While we all may have heard the term, many of us may have to ask, "What is spina bifida exactly?" It's not a commonly known disease, but for those who have it or know someone who has it, the more information available, the better.

Spina bifida is a condition involving the malformation of either the brain and spine or the spine only during fetal development. There are three types of spina bifida -- myelomeningocele, the severest form in which the spinal cord and its lining are protruding from an opening in the spine; meningocele, a form where only the spinal cord lining is protruding; and spina bifida occulta, where there is a breach in the spinal cord, but it is covered by skin.

Spina Bifida Symptoms

Because the condition occurs in the womb, there are no warning signs. Severe forms of the condition typically present with spinal malformation and some form of paralysis, usually in the lower body. The paralysis is often begun in the womb, which can lead to additional complications such as clubfoot, hip dislocation or the inability for the baby to lay on his or her back when born.

Additional complications that may arise include constipation and incontinence, due to damage to the nerves that control the bowel and bladder. Also, though the reasons are not known, many people with spina bifida are also more prone to learning disorders, such as dyslexia.

Spina Bifida Risk Factors

The causes of spina bifida have yet to be discovered, but a few of the risk factors associated with the condition include:

  • Family history. If a woman has family members who have had spina bifida, or she has already given birth to one or more children with neural tube defects, the risk of spina bifida increases.
  • Lack of folate. Folate is critical in fetal development, so if there is a deficiency it can lead to increased risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida.
  • Medications. Certain medications, including anti-seizure medications, have been known to increase the risk of neural tube defects. This may be due to the fact that they interrupt the body's absorption and use of folic acid and folate.

Other factors include diabetes, obesity and an increase in the body's temperature in the early stages of pregnancy have all been identified as risk factors for spina bifida.

Spina Bifida Treatment

Depending on the severity of the condition, spina bifida treatment may include prenatal or postnatal surgery to help repair or minimize damage from the malformation of the spine. After surgery, physical therapy, treatment of additional conditions and fittings for assistive devices will all be part of the treatment plan.

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