What is Spina Bifida? Causes, Symptoms, Diagnoses, and Treatment

What is Spina Bifida? Causes, Symptoms, Diagnoses, and Treatment

There’s so much that goes into developing a healthy baby. If you’ve ever asked an expecting parent about the sex of their baby, some might say they want a girl while others admit that they wish to have a boy. However, it’s also pretty standard for parents to avoid the sex question, and insist that they care most about having a healthy baby. This is because there is so much that can go wrong during the development process. Too often, people take the process for granted because all they see is a growing baby. When a woman is growing life, there are certain steps that need to take place. One of those steps happens by the 28th day of her pregnancy. It’s when the brain and the spinal cord develop. If there is an issue with that process, and it doesn’t happen by the 28th day, this is an indication that something is seriously wrong. Unfortunately, this can be a strong indicator that a brain disorder has developed. One of those defects might be spina bifida.


What is Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida means ‘cleft spine.’ It happens when the brain and spinal cord don’t develop in the way they’re naturally supposed to. Statistics show that this issue impacts 1,500 to 2,000 babies every single year. Studies also show that there are about 166,000 people who are currently living in the United States with spina bifida.


Types of Spina Bifida

Even though there are a lot of questions surrounding cures for spina bifida, there are currently four known types of this birth defect: myelomeningocele, meningocele, occulta, and closed neural tube defects. Occulta is considered the mild type of spina bifida. It’s possible for this type to go undetected at birth. However, there are cases of spina bifida occulta that prove to be milder than others. There’s a range.

The closed neural tube defects type is when there are some issues with the way the spine collects fat and bone. Growth and formation are abnormal in this type. Additionally, there’s a range of severities with this type. Some people don’t deal with any apparent symptoms. Others can deal with incomplete paralysis.

Meningocele is another type of spina bifida where the meninges of the spine start to poke through a layer of the skin. Some people have no symptoms, while others deal with issues like uncontrollable bladder and bowels. The last type is called myelomeningocele. It is definitely the most severe of the four. This can directly impact the quality of life an individual has because of the severe symptoms.



Myelomeningocele is a type of spina bifida that’s actually more severe. It tends to impact one out of 4,000 infants. While the spine doesn’t fully form, this issue is visible as the spinal cord and meninges will begin to push through an infant’s back. In addition to developing a loss of control with the bladder or bowels, it’s possible for a baby to develop clubfoot. Clubfoot happens when the feet or legs develop in ways that aren’t normal. While it’s possible to correct clubfoot with surgery, it’s not uncommon for babies to wear a cast on the foot for the first few months of infancy. Once the foot is no longer in need of a brace, the baby wears a metal brace to bed every night for the first few years of their life. Another symptom of myelomeningocele is a condition called hydrocephalus, where fluid builds up inside of the skill.

The symptoms of myelomeningocele can be really dangerous or severe. Because of all of the various complications involved, there are medical professionals who will recommend genetic testing. If a baby is found to have an extremely severe case and it’s detected early, they might recommend terminating the pregnancy because that baby wouldn’t have the chance at a great quality of life. This is all on a case-by-case basis, but it is a part of the conversation when this type of spina bifida is detected.


Spina Bifida Occulta

Spina bifida occulta is one of the mild forms of spina bifida. It’s actually possible for people to be born with spina bifida occulta and feel no symptoms. The word ‘occulta’ is a Latin term that literally means “hidden or secret,” which is true to form. If the doctors miss spina bifida at birth, they might catch it when an individual needs to get an MRI or X-ray for another issue. With spina bifida occulta, babies are born with a gap develops between the bones of the spine. It’s also possible to develop what’s known as a tethered cord. The spinal cord is actually located inside of a spinal canal. When the cord is tethered, it’s unable to move in the same way a normal spinal cord can. Within spina bifida occulta, this issue is considered tethered cord syndrome. The syndrome can lead to issues like nerve damage, back pain, and more.

For this type of spina bifida, it’s perfectly normal to have surgery to loosen the cord. Once the cord is released, it’s a lot easier to walk and move comfortably. If it’s not handled, this can be an uncomfortable experience that leads to symptoms such as loss of bladder control, discomfort, and challenges with walking. Other symptoms of this particular type include back pain, numb or weak legs, and scoliosis.

Interestingly enough, there are also visible signs of spina bifida occulta. Though it’s easy to miss, a person needs to pay attention to the growth of extra fat or a dimple in the area near the spine. It’s also important to notice if a birthmark becomes discolored. These can be symptoms of spina bifida occulta.


What causes spina bifida?

Presently, the cause of spina bifida is truly unknown. There are factors that can play a role in whether a baby develops spina bifida, but it’s really difficult to pinpoint. However, many medical researchers and scientists are in agreement that there are typically three main factors to consider: environmental, genetic, and nutritional possibilities.

When scientists point to an environmental possibility, they’re discussing the environment the baby is growing in (the mother’s womb. This means that if a mother has diabetes that she didn’t manage or is obese, these types of controllable factors play a role in the health of the baby since they’re living inside of her. Issues like obesity and diabetes are some of the ways that pregnancy can become high-risk and dangerous for the child.

The main nutritional factor that most doctors point to is folic acid. Sure, it’s great to take a great prenatal vitamin that includes folic acid in it. It’s also great to try and consume foods that are rich in folic acid. This is easy to control and stay on top of. However, if a baby develops spina bifida due to genetics, there really is no way to prevent it. The statistics make spina bifida a really rare birth defect, but when it happens, it might just be due to genetics. This concept can be really frustrating and disappointing, but there’s really no way around it because there’s still so much that’s unknown about spina bifida.


Spina Bifida is a Defect in What Part of the Body?

Spina bifida is a birth defect that develops in the spine and the spinal cord. When they don’t form together in the right way, spina bifida occurs. When a woman gets pregnant, the baby naturally develops. During the developing stages in the womb is when a baby can develop spina bifida. This defect also impacts the central nervous system in the brain because the brain and the spinal cord are connected.


What Are The Symptoms of Spina Bifida?

The symptoms of spina bifida are admittedly upsetting to deal with. Depending on the severity, an infant can experience paralysis in their legs. If it’s a mild case of spina bifida, they might experience weakness in their legs.

When a child deals with spina bifida, they might experience urinary incontinence. With the impact of spina bifida, a child can really struggle to maintain control of the urinary sphincter. It’s also not uncommon to deal with a desire to urinate often. Many individuals who deal with spina bifida also struggle with bowel incontinence. The struggle to control or compute what is happening can lead to a consistent struggle with when it’s time to use the restroom at the appropriate time.

While surgical options can get rid of the fluid, it’s not uncommon for fluid to build upon the brain. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid. It’s also known as CSF. When fluid collects on the brain, this is a dangerous situation that can lead to permanent brain damage, intense brain pressure, or hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is the process where there’s too much fluid on the brain, and it penetrates deeply throughout the brain and spinal column.

Because of the way that spina bifida impacts the nerves, it’s also possible for a person to experience minimal sensations in their skin. Whether it’s the urge to use the bathroom or a touch from another person, it’s hard for a person to fully feel sensation in their skin.


How to Prevent Spina Bifida

While spina bifida impacts one out of every 1,000 children as a rare birth defect, this defect can feel devastating to the parents. After all, if there’s anything they could’ve done to prevent this, they would try. While there are ways to prevent spina bifida, there’s no real guarantee that your child won’t be the one out of the 1,000 due to genetics.

To take matters into your own hands, consider the fact that an increase in your intake of folic acid can help decrease your chances of giving birth to a baby with spina bifida. The recommended amount is 400 micrograms. It’s an excellent idea to increase the intake of foods like green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes. Consider drinking a green smoothie in the morning as a meal replacement. Enjoy a citrus fruit salad as a side dish at lunchtime. For dinner, make a delicious chili filled with various legumes like black beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. Add in some hearty tomatoes, your choice of ground meat and seasonings. Folic acid doesn’t have to be a chore to take in. Plus, if there are easy ways to decrease your child’s chance of spina bifida, it’s worth the effort. It’s also easy to take a simple multivitamin that contains 400 mcg of folic acid in it.

In addition to an increase in folic acid intake, other ways to prevent spina bifida include remaining healthy (avoiding flu and viruses) and the avoidance of radiation. If you are overweight or obese, it’s wise to lose weight in order to decrease your chances of health risks and birth defects. If you have diabetes, do your best to change your diet in order to reverse the disease as it can play a role in a dangerous pregnancy.


How To Diagnosis Spina Bifida

Since spina bifida is a birth defect, it’s typically found before birth. During the various ultrasounds of a woman’s pregnancy, the signs of spina bifida will present themselves. However, ultrasound scans aren’t the only way to detect spina bifida.

When pregnant women take various blood tests, there’s a specific protein that doctors are looking for that can point to the birth defect. Also known as AFP, alpha-fetal protein is the protein that is most apparent in blood work when women are carrying a child with spina bifida. Though it might not be the most comfortable way to detect spina bifida, MRI scans are another option when doctors are looking to get an official diagnosis of spina bifida.


How Do You Treat Spina Bifida?

While there’s currently no cure for spina bifida, there are treatments that will allow an individual to have a chance at a comfortable, normal life. There are three main treatments medical professionals recommend for spina bifida.

First, surgery is a treatment option. Since there are many numerous forms of spina bifida, it’s important to note that not all forms require surgery. Typically, the most severe form of spina bifida, myelomeningocele, requires surgery. This severe form also requires many of the other treatment options. However, surgery is a viable option for babies who don’t have the severe option. Medical professionals usually encourage surgery on a case-by-case basis. In some surgical procedures, fluid gets drained from the brain with a surgical tool called a shunt. In others, the surgery happens directly on the spinal cord. If it’s deemed necessary, doctors will also perform surgeries on the feet, legs, and hips.

The second treatment option is the mobility aid. Since the spine is impacted, this can play a role in how well a child walks and moves around. Unfortunately, spina bifida has the power to leave many children in a state of paralysis. Whether it’s total or partial paralysis, it can be pretty debilitating. This is why mobility aids such as braces, wheelchairs, and crutches can be so beneficial as a treatment option for a child.

The third treatment option is therapy. It’s typically a necessary option for any child with spina bifida. In most cases, a child needs muscle-strengthening exercises and therapy treatments in order to gain optimal use of their extremities. The good news is that when a child is able to get the right therapy treatments, they can become self-sufficient. With a tough physical ailment, self-sufficiency can be the confidence boost they need to keep going.


How Centric Healthcare can Help

Centric Healthcare is committed to the care of children who’ve been diagnosed with spina bifida. The health group has created a specialized home health sector that specifically focuses on pediatrics. Depending on the severity of your child’s diagnosis, 24-7 help might be necessary. If this is the case, Centric Healthcare is available to provide the special touch that’s needed when caring for pediatric clients. The private duty nurses are able to provide the best bedside manner you can find in Rochester, Minneapolis, and Austin, Minnesota.

In addition to 24-hour care, enjoy long-term, short-term, or transition home health care. You won’t have to worry about long-term contracts. Plus, you’ll have the comfort of knowing that your child is in the hands of professionals who care about your child’s physical, spiritual, and psychological well-being. There’s no better feeling than that.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments