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Common Conditions

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a neural tube defect caused when the neural tube, which eventually becomes the brain and spinal cord, does not close properly during pregnancy. The most severe type of spina bifida is called myelomeningocele, but there are other less severe types of spina bifida such as meningocele and spina bifida occulta. In myelomeningocele, there is a fluid filled sac that protrudes through the baby’s lower back containing damaged nerves and parts of the spinal cord. This can cause disabilities such as bladder and bowel dysfunction, hydrocephalus (excess cerebrospinal fluid on the brain), orthopaedic malformations, sexual dysfunction, intellectual disability, development of a latex allergy, and paralysis/numbness in the lower extremities. The cause of spina bifida is thought to be both genetic and environmental. Risk factors include a family history of neural tube defects, folate deficiency, certain medications (anti-seizure meds such as Valproic Acid and Carbamazepine), obesity during pregnancy, diabetes during pregnancy, and fever during pregnancy. Women who take folic acid during and before pregnancy are much less likely to have a child with spina bifida. Spina bifida may be treated with prenatal and postnatal surgery and may involve ongoing treatment for complications such as bowel and bladder dysfunction, difficulty walking, or hydrocephalus. Many individuals with spina bifida require mobile assist devices to function properly.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 3). What is spina bifida? https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/facts.html

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. (2014, March 31). Spina bifida causes, symptoms and treatment. https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/spina-bifida#symptoms

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, March 17). Spina bifida. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spina-bifida/symptoms-causes/syc-20377860

National Center for Advancing and Translational Sciences. (2021, February 1). Spina bifida. National Institutes of Health. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7673/spina-bifida

National Health Service. (2020, April 20). Spina bifida. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/spina-bifida/.  

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2021, March 26). Spina bifida fact sheet. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Spina-Bifida-Fact-Sheet

Patel, N. T., Rizk, E. B., & Simon, S. D. (n.d.). Spina bifida. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Spina-Bifida.