Spina Bifida is a congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube leading to a gap in the spinal column. The vertebrae fail to develop properly very early in a pregnancy, between the 14th and 25th day after conception, leading to the baby being born with the condition. In some cases, the spinal cord or other membranes may push through this opening in the back. The condition usually is detected before a baby is born and treated right away.
There is no definitive cause for spina bifida, but some factors that could play a role in its development include nutrition, environment, lifestyle and genetics. There is evidence that the addition of the B vitamin folic acid to the diet of women of childbearing age may reduce incidence of neural tube defects by at least 50%.
Damage to the spinal cord is permanent and irreversible and those born with spina bifida will experience varying degrees of paralysis, loss of sensation, bowel and bladder complications. Some individuals may suffer from some form of learning disability. Spina bifida is often accompanied by hydrocephalus referring to excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired through illness or accident. Over 80% of children born with spina bifida also have hydrocephalus at birth or develop it later.
Treatment involves surgery and therapy to minimize further neurological damage and address the resulting conditions. Treatment for the variety of effects of spina bifida and hydrocephalus can also include medication, physiotherapy and the use of assistive devices. Many people with spina bifida will need mobility supports such as braces, crutches, or wheelchairs. Almost all affected by spina bifita will have some form of bladder or bowel dysfunction.
Ongoing therapy, medical care and/or surgical treatments will be necessary to help prevent and manage complications and secondary conditions throughout an individual's life. But with these modern interventions the survival rate of infants born with spina bifida has increased dramatically. Fifty years ago, only 10% of babies born with spina bifida survived their first year and today 90% survive and thrive.