Spina bifida is a birth defect where part of the vertebral column fails to form correctly during fetal development. It occurs when the neural tube fails to close properly before the 24th week of gestation. The condition may occur anywhere along the length of the spine, although most cases involve the lower back and sacrum. Spina bifida is a congenital condition where part of the spinal cord protrudes through a hole in the spine. It's usually caused by incomplete closure of the neural tube during fetal development. The most common symptoms include back pain, leg weakness, bowel and bladder problems, and difficulty walking.
Spina bifida (myelomeningocele)
This is a severe type of spina bifida in which the membranes and the spinal nerves protrude at birth forming a sac. The exposed nerves may become infected, so surgery should be performed as soon as possible. Spina bifida comes in different varieties, including occult spina bifida, myelomeningocele, and the very rare type meningocele (muh-NING-go-seel).
Spina bifida occulta
One of the mildest and most common forms of spina bifida is occulta, which causes a small separation or gap between spinal bones (vertebrae). It is common for people with spina bifida occulta to not even be aware that they have it, unless they are discovered during an unrelated imaging test.
The most severe form is myelomeningocele, also known as open spina bifida. This is characterised by an open spinal canal along several vertebrae in the lower or middle back. When the baby is born, the membranes and spinal nerves push through this opening, forming a sac on his or her back that usually exposes nerves and tissues. As a result, the baby may become prone to life-threatening infections and suffer from paralysis and bladder and bowel problems.
As a result of this rare form of spina bifida, a sac of spinal fluid bulges through the spine. The nerves and spinal cord are not affected in this type of meningocele. Babies with meningocele may experience some minor difficulties with functioning, including bladder and bowel problems.
Different types and severity of spina bifida cause different signs and symptoms.
Spina bifida occulta. There are usually no signs or symptoms because the spinal nerves are not involved, but sometimes you can see signs on the newborn's skin above the spinal problem, such as tufts of hair, small dimples, or birthmarks. MRI or spinal ultrasound can sometimes identify these skin marks as signs of a spinal cord issue in newborns.
Meningocele. Problems with bladder and bowel function may result from this type.
Myelomeningocele. As a result of this severe form of spina bifida:
As a baby is born, the spinal canal remains open along several vertebrae of the lower or middle back. Both the membranes and the spinal cord or nerves protrude, forming a sac that usually contains nerves and tissues.