Spina Bifida is a type of birth defect that affects the brain and the spinal cord. It happens when the spine and the vertebrae are being formed, and it does not close completely. This happens at about the time that the fetus is one month old. It can damage the nerves and the spinal cord. At the first ultra sound that is done, it may be picked up, but there is a possibility that it will not be found until the baby is born. The current data shows that there are approximately eight babies a day born with spina bifida or a similar defect of the brain and spine. It is considered the most common permanently disabling birth defect in the United States.
The exact cause of spina bifida is unknown, but it does seem to run in families. Doctors prescribe folic acid before and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of the baby being born with the defect. The effects are varied. Most have normal intelligence. Some require assistive devices: Braces, crutches, or wheelchairs. There is a risk of learning difficulties, urinary and bowel problems, or hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid in the brain.)
There are three types of spina bifida with different stages of severity.
1. Spina Bifida Occulta: Is the mildest and most common form with a small gap in the spine without an opening or a sac on the back. The spinal cord and nerves remain undamaged. It may not be found unless there is another reason for the child or adult to have an X-Ray. There are usually no symptoms or disabilities.
2. Meningocele: Is a sac of fluid that comes through an opening in the baby’s back. The spinal cord is not in the sac and there is usually little or no damage. Those with this type of spina bifida may have minor disabilities. It is usually not necessary for surgery with this type.
3. Myelomeningocele: This type is what most people are talking about when they refer to spina bifida. It is the most severe type with a sac of fluid coming through an opening in the baby’s back with part of the spinal cord and nerves that causes damage. A surgery will take place within one to three days after birth to reduce the risk of infection or other disabilities. Sometimes this surgery may be done before the birth. 70 to 90% of these children have too much fluid on their brains and causes pressure and swelling. This may cause brain damage. Their disabilities are from moderate to severe. This child will require lifelong treatment and assistance with specialty care.
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