Spina Bifida is a birth condition where the spine does not develop properly, with gaps forming in the arches of the bone. Under normal circumstances these close as a foetus develops but in cases of neural tube defects this is not the case. The cause of spina bifida is not known but may have something to do with low levels of folic acid during pregnancy. Tests for the condition can be undertaken around the 4th month of pregnancy and can include ultrasound or a blood test.
The most serious kind of spina bifida is myelomeningocele which can cause a lot of damage to the spinal cord – opening the child to neurological problems and infections. This more severe form of neural tube defect needs to be corrected by surgery following birth. The most common type is spina bifida occulta and most children are not aware that they have the condition although they may have certain symptoms like a weakness in the legs. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 10-20% of adults may have this without even being aware.
While surgery can be used to repair any gaps, damage is normally done before a child is born. In its most serious forms, it can cause weakness and paralysis in the legs, bladder and bowel problems and loss of sensation to the lower parts of the body. Spina bifida can be associated with hydrocephalus which causes fluid on the brain and this aspect can lead to a child developing learning difficulties. With better medical interventions now used, the prognosis for those born with spina bifida are more positive.