What is Spina Bifida?
Spina bifida is the most common central nervous system birth defect, and occurs when an area the spine does not form properly in the womb. The most common form of fetal spina bifida, called myelomeningocele, causes the spinal cord and nerves to protrude through the vertebrae and become exposed on the baby’s back. The spinal cord in children with a milder form of spina bifida, called spina bifida occulta, does not protrude through the skin and often goes unnoticed.
While spina bifida can occur at any level of the spine, it most commonly happens at the lower part of the back. At the Center for Maternal Fetal Health, we’ve assembled some of the best doctors at the most advanced facilities to provide effective spina bifida treatment to your child.
Causes of Spina Bifida
While researchers have been unable to identify a single, uniform cause of spina bifida, a combination of genetic, nutritional and environmental factors during early pregnancy can be attributed to spina bifida. Many of the genetic factors that cause spina bifida are unknown, but a deficiency of folic acid (B vitamin) during pregnancy can contribute to fetal spina bifida.
Other factors that can lead to a spina bifida diagnosis include:
- Certain medications taken during pregnancy (ex: epilepsy/bipolar medications)
Spina Bifida Symptoms
Children with myelomeningocele spina bifida diagnosed later in life can experience a number of symptoms that include:
- Bladder and bowel issues
- Loss of sensation below the defect location on the back
- Lower leg paralysis and cognitive impairment
- Orthopedic irregularities (club feet, knee or hip issues, etc.)
Each child’s case is unique, and spina bifida symptoms vary on a case by case basis. If you are concerned that your child may have spina bifida, be sure to consult your physician for further testing and diagnosis.
Spina Bifida Diagnosis and Treatment
Fetal spina bifida can be diagnosed through a routine ultrasound between 16 and 18 weeks into pregnancy. Myelomeningocele spina bifida usually presents in the ultrasound as a protruding cystic mass on the spine. Your doctor will then run a number of tests to confirm a spina bifida diagnosis and plan accordingly.
Prenatal Spina Bifida Treatment: Surgery to treat spina bifida between week 19 and 25 of pregnancy can prevent additional nerve damage post-birth. Performed in utero, surgery involves opening the abdomen and sewing shut the opening in the vertebrae. While risky for both mother and child, treating fetal spina bifida as early as possible can lead to more positive outcomes later in life. If your unborn baby is a candidate for fetal spina bifida surgery, the Center for Maternal Fetal Health team can help counsel your family about your child’s options and connect you to the best surgical team to perform the procedure.
Postnatal Spina Bifida Treatment: If your doctor decides on postnatal spina bifida treatment, you will be monitored closely throughout the rest of your pregnancy before a C-section delivery at a Level IV neonatal intensive care unit. After birth, ideally 24 to 48 hours, a surgeon will then remove the protrusion around the spinal cord and close surrounding skin to enclose the spinal cord. If health reasons delay surgery, your child will start a measured course of antibiotics to help prevent infection and further complications while the spinal cord is exposed.
Long-Term Effects and Prognosis
Babies born with more severe forms of spina bifida may experience long-term consequences that require ongoing medical care. However, thanks to early diagnosis and innovative treatment techniques, many children with fetal spina bifida can lead normal, active lives into adulthood.
To learn more about fetal spina bifida, long-term outlook or our Center for Maternal Fetal Health team, contact us today.