Spina Bifida

Overview of Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a type of neural tube defect (NTD). It is apparent at birth and occurs during the development of the child, before birth. It occurs when the spinal cord, brain, and the protective covering of brain and spinal cord do not completely develop.
Under normal circumstances, this tube forms in early pregnancy and closes by the 28th day after conception. In babies who have this disorder, the neural tube doesn’t develop or close properly which leads to some spinal cord defects.
As the spine and spinal cord do not develop properly in the womb, it causes a gap in the spine. It can occur anywhere along the spine if the neural tube does not close properly. As a result, the backbone which is responsible for protecting the spinal cord doesn’t form as ideally, as it should. This damages the spinal cord and the surrounding nerves.

One of the most obvious signs of Spina Bifida is a bulging/ swelling anywhere along the spine.

Signs and Symptoms of Spina Bifida

The symptoms of spina bifida vary from person to person and also depend upon the type of spina bifida you are having.
The symptoms for Myelomeningocele spina bifida include:

  • Open spinal canal over some backbone usually in the middle or lower part of the back.
  • A sack formation of nerves and tissues since birth
  • The sack contains exposed nerves and tissues though sometimes it can be covered by some skin.
  • Weak or paralyzed legs
  • Seizures
  • Uneven hips
  • Scoliosis
  • Feet deformity
  • Issues with the bowel and bladder

Symptoms of Meningocele

The symptoms for meningocele include:

  • A small opening in the back
  • A visible sack at birth
  • Membranes pushing into the sack through the opening in the vertebrae
  • Normal development of the spinal cord

In the case of meningocele, the membranes can be surgically removed.

Symptoms of Spina Bifida Occulta

The symptoms of spina bifida occulta include:

  • Gaps between vertebrae
  • There is no visible opening outside
  • No fluid-filled sack outside the body
  • A small birthmark on the back
  • A small group or cluster of hair on the back
  • Some extra fat on the back

A person may not be aware of this type of spina bifida.

Types of Spina Bifida

Spain Bifida ranges from mild to severe, depending upon the type, location, size, and complication of the defect.
Spina Bifida is categorized into the following types:

  • Spina Bifida Occulta - Occulta means Hidden. This type of spina bifida is the mildest and common and causes a gap in one more bone of the spine. Most people having this defect are not even aware of its existence unless a screening or imaging test is done for some other reasons.
  • Myelomeningocele - this is also known as Open spina bifida. This is the most severe type. It causes many openings or gaps along the spinal cord in the lower or middle gap. As a result, many membranes, and spinal nerves push through the baby's back and form a sack of tissues and nerves. This can cause life-threatening infections and may cause
  1. lifetime paralysis
  2. bladder and bowel dysfunction.
  3. Incontinence


  • Meningocele - this also causes a sack formation outside the body but this sack doesn’t contain any nerves or tissues. There is no serious nerve damage and only causes some minor disabilities.

Causes of Spina Bifida

The exact cause of spina bifida is not yet known. It involves a number of factors including environmental factors and genetics. Some possible causes are:

Spina Bifida in Children

For children, the treatment focuses on limiting the disabilities and extent of damage as the children grow. Timely medical intervention and proper rehabilitation can somewhat help the child. During this time, the parents and guardians are also trained.

Spina Bifida in Adults

By adulthood, most of the symptoms are well known. Some coping mechanisms, medications, therapies, and walking aids normally help them. It is possible for the affected people to live a healthy life, even an independent life.

However, some people can develop other medical conditions over time.


Risk Factors of Spina Bifida

  • Deficiency of folate
  • Family history
  • Certain heavy medications
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Increased body temperature

Complications of Spina Bifida

  • Traumatic birth or difficult delivery
  • Consistent urinary tract infection development
  • Certain fluid buildup in the brain
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Meningitis or brain infection
  • Permanent weakness or paralysis in the body



This condition occurs very early in pregnancy so early preventive measures can reduce the chances of this disorder.

Some prevention tips are:

  • Make sure you are consuming enough amount of folic acid
  • Consume enough amount of leafy green vegetables, nuts, fruits
  • Make sure to control your blood glucose levels during pregnancy
  • Control your weight
  • Control your body temperature


This condition is diagnosed during the 18-21st week of pregnancy. If this disorder is confirmed, many tests are performed after birth to analyze the damage. These tests include:

These tests are performed to analyze the excess fluid on the brain known as hydrocephalus.

Ultrasound of bladder and kidney is also done.

Physical examination of the baby to check for paralysis.

Treatment of Spina Bifida | When to Consult a Doctor

The treatment depends upon the type of spina bifida you are having. In some cases, you might not even need some treatment.

Some possible treatment options can be:

  • Surgery - myelomeningocele, and meningocele require surgery to put the exposed sack containing nerves back in place. The surgeon would also close any openings in the vertebrae. To avoid any complications in life, the surgeon might also put a shunt.

Though post-surgery, some disabilities might still remain. Possible treatment options to treat those include:

  • Additional surgeries
  • Medications
  • Physical therapy session
  • Rehabilitation services
  • Walking aids


In case you exhibit any concerning signs and symptoms for spina bifida, consult a medical professional as soon as possible.