What is Spina Bifida?
Spina Bifida is the most common of birth defects caused by the incomplete closure of the neural tube (the beginnings of the central nervous system) during the first stages of foetal development.
The vertebrae do not form properly, or can be missing altogether and nerves and tissues can be left unprotected or their growth can encroach on other structures; this can result in mobility, sensation or neurological problems. It is normally seen at the lumbar and sacral regions of the spine.
Symptoms of Spina BifidaThere are different types of spina bifida, each with different symptoms and severity.Spina bifida occulta is very common and signs can include a ‘dimple’ on the skin, sometimes with unusual hair growth or a small birthmark may be present. It is a very mild form and is not usually problematic.
Spina bifida myelomeningocele is a serious form of the condition and occurs when the normal membranes that cover the spinal cord do not form properly and can create a sac-like structure that contains cerebrospinal fluid and nerves, some of which may stem from the spinal cord. It is clearly visible at birth and treatment planning should begin as early as possible to prevent further deterioration of the spinal cord and central nervous system.
Symptoms can be loss of sensation below the affected area, occasional paralysis, neurological problems such as bowel or bladder incontinence.
It is very common for sufferers of this form of spina bifida to have an accompanying condition called hydrocephalus. This happens when fluid collects around the brain, surgery is often necessary to insert a shunt to help drain the fluid.
The last type of spina bifida is called meningocele and is not particularly common. As in spina bifida cystica, a sac forms from the membranes of the spinal cord, but damage to nerves is minimal or none and functions are not normally affected, therefore treatment is unusual.
Treatment of Spina BifidaThere is no cure for spina bifida but there are treatments available to prevent affected functions from deteriorating.Surgery is normally performed soon after diagnosis, and the opening in the vertebrae is closed and nerves are placed into their proper position. The damage to the nerves cannot be reversed.
Many sufferers will need to be educated on the correct selection and usage of appropriate continence aids and sometimes help with mobility will need to be explored. Physiotherapy may be useful to those with minor mobility problems.Counselling and therapy should be made available if required regarding social and sexual issues, and children should be included in the decision making process as a way of helping them understand the condition.
Foetal surgery is being researched and developed all the time and doctors are exploring ways of treating spina bifida in the uterus before birth.
Preventative MeasuresIt is commonly thought that spina bifida is related to a lack of folic acid in the mothers’ diet prior to conception and during the first three months of conception.
Folic acid supplements are strongly recommended as to consume the required recommended amounts through normal diet is extremely difficult.
There is thought to be a genetic link to this condition also.
Spina bifida is a very common defect amongst newborns. There is no cure but treatment may help reduce the condition deteriorating. There are different types of spina bifida, all of which vary in severity.