Can Spina Bifida Run In Families? What to Know

Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects a baby's spinal cord and can also cause physical and intellectual disabilities. It can be inherited or caused by environmental factors, such as poor nutrition or substance abuse. In this guide, we'll explore the possibility that spina bifida might run in the family, discuss treatments available for newborns with spina bifida, and look at ways to recognize if a baby has spina bifida based on their size.

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is a birth defect caused by the incomplete development of the spinal cord. It results in an opening on the back that exposes a portion of the spinal cord, allowing for the displacement of tissue, nerves, and vertebrae. This often leads to physical disabilities such as paralysis or walking problems, but can also include cognitive disabilities such as memory loss. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the defect.

Can Spina Bifida be Hereditary?

Even though the specific cause of spina bifida is still unknown, research suggests that genetics can play a role in the development of certain types of this birth defect. While it’s possible for anyone to be born with spina bifida, the condition can run in families and there may be increased risk if an immediate family member has had the disorder or any environmental factors like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Are any Risk Factors for Developing Spina Bifida?

Although the exact cause of spina bifida is still unknown, a number of risk factors may play a role in its development. Maternal age over 35 years old, prenatal exposure to certain medications, deficiencies in folic acid and vitamin B12, genetics and family history, and low socioeconomic status have been linked to an increased risk for spina bifida. Additionally, this condition may also be more common among Native American, Hispanic and Caucasian populations than in other races.

How is Spina Bifida Diagnosed and Treated?

Spina bifida is usually diagnosed either before or shortly after birth. Diagnosis may involve imaging studies, physical examinations, and specialized tests like a cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Treatment options include surgery to close the spinal opening and repair the nerve damage, as well as physical therapy, medications and orthotics. More serious cases may require more intensive treatment such as shunting of excess cerebrospinal fluid or shunt revision.

Are There any Prevention or Treatment Options for Newborn infants with Spina Bifida?

Treatments may involve surgery, physical therapy, and medications to help manage symptoms. In some cases, imaging studies may be used to detect spina bifida before birth so that the baby can receive treatment as soon as possible after birth. Often a combination of surgeries and specialty treatments will be best for the baby’s long-term health. In addition, there are a variety of prenatal tests available that can help detect spina bifida early in pregnancy so that appropriate planning and follow-up care can begin right away.

Other resources available

Spina bifida: MedlinePlus Genetics

Spina bifida - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic

Top Guide on Genetic Causes of Spina Bifida (FAQ) – Spina Bifida Resource Center

Spina Bifida (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth

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