Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects the development of the spinal cord and its surrounding structures. It can cause physical, cognitive, and psychological effects to varying degrees. Knowing who is most at risk of spina bifida can help families prepare for the possibility and work with their doctor to reduce the chances of their child having it.
Family history of Spina Bifida.
Having a family history of spina bifida increases the risk that it could be passed on to your children. If someone in your family (such as a sibling, parent, or grandparent) has had the condition, you may want to talk to your doctor about additional testing. Other factors that can increase the risk of spina bifida include certain medications and environmental factors such as maternal rubella or radiation exposure.
Low folic acid levels.
Low levels of folic acid in a mother’s body before and during early pregnancy are thought to be one of the major risk factors for spina bifida. To protect against this, pregnant women or those who want to become pregnant should talk to their doctors about taking a folic acid supplement before becoming pregnant. Folic acid is a B vitamin (also known as folate) that helps the body make new cells. It can also help prevent birth defects related to spina bifida.
Type 2 Diabetes in pregnancy.
Women who have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes prior to becoming pregnant are also at higher risk of having a baby born with spina bifida. This is because high blood sugar levels can lead to health problems in the growing fetus, such as heart and brain defects. If a woman has Type 2 diabetes, it is important to manage her condition before and during pregnancy to reduce the risks. Regular check-ups with an obstetrician or midwife, along with glucose testing, are recommended for women with diabetes who plan on becoming pregnant.
Environmental factors, such as exposure to pesticides and other chemicals.
Environmental contaminants, such as lead, some pesticides and other chemicals, may increase the risk of spina bifida. These toxins can interfere with how an embryo’s spine develops. Women who are exposed to these environmental toxins before getting pregnant may have a greater chance of having a baby born with spina bifida. It is important to reduce exposure to these chemicals both before and during pregnancy.
Age of the mother—expectant mothers over 35 are known to have higher risks for Spina Bifida cases in their children.
Research has found that older expectant mothers have higher chances of delivering a baby with spina bifida. The chance of having a baby with neural tube defects increases in women aged 35 or older. This may be explained because the quality of egg cells decreases as women age, reducing the potential for normal embryonic development and increasing the risk of abnormalities. Women over 35 should pay special attention to their health before becoming pregnant to minimize this risk.