Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the vertebrae of the spine fail to close completely, causing damage to the spinal cord and nerves. It has been recognized as a medical condition for centuries, but with modern advances in medicine, it can now be more easily detected before a baby is born. This article explores the history of spina bifida and discusses how it is diagnosed and what outcomes are possible.
What is Spina Bifida?
Spina bifida is a congenital birth defect that occurs when the vertebrae of the spine fail to close properly, which can result in damage to the spinal cord and nerves. It can affect any area of the spine and is usually found on prenatal scans or during postnatal exams. Depending on where it occurs and how severe it is, spina bifida may cause various physical, neurological, intellectual and behavioral disabilities.
How Is Spina Bifida Detected?
Spina bifida can be detected through antenatal screening tests and postnatal physical examinations. If the results indicate that there may be a problem with the baby’s spine, further tests may be ordered to confirm or rule out the potential diagnosis. After birth, doctors will physically examine the baby and perform further imaging studies to determine if spina bifida is present.
What Are the Symptoms of Spina Bifida?
In most cases, the signs and symptoms of spina bifida are usually quite visible. Affected babies may have an abnormally shaped head or a birth mark on their lower back. There may also be a dimple or tuft of hair near the abnormal area, as well as abnormal sensations in that area. Other symptoms can include bladder and bowel incontinence, weak muscles and poor coordination.
What Health Problems Does It Cause?
Spina bifida can cause a range of physical and mental health problems in affected babies. Physically, it can cause weak muscles, poor coordination, and incontinence. Babies may also have learning difficulties as well as cognitive issues such as delayed language development and memory deficits. Mental health problems including depression, anxiety and autism may be present in extreme cases. Treatment for spina bifida often involves physical therapy and medications to manage symptoms.
Can Spina Bifida Go Undetected?
While certain forms of spina bifida can go undetected for some time, there are screenings available which can detect the condition. Most people will be offered an ultrasound early in their pregnancy to look for signs of spina bifida. Further tests may be necessary if the results from the initial screening raise any concerns. Tests can also be done shortly after the baby is born to provide more conclusive results.