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Spina bifida is a developmental congenital type of disorder which occurs when the embryonic neural tube does not get closed completely. Its name actually stands for split spine in Latin. This happens when some vertebrae do not get fully formed so they remain option. Due to all of that, certain portions of the spinal cord then protrude through the openings. Another medical problem commonly associated with spina bifida is anencephaly which is characterized by the cerebrum which does not get closed. Some cases of spina bifida also involve encephalocele in which certain parts of the brain do not get fused. In most cases, spina bifida occurs in the sacral and lumbar areas of the spine. The main cause of spina bifida is the failure of the neural tube to close during the first month of embryonic development. There are also certain common contributing factors which may lead to the development of spina bifida and those include electric blankets, hot tubs, fever, increased body temperature, obesity, having a relative with spina bifida, diabetes and certain types of medications such as anticonvulsants. The exact causes are largely unknown, but according to various scientific studies, spina bifida is most likely linked to interactions between multiple genes and certain types of environmental factors. Research has show that folic acid supplements can be very efficient in reducing the risk of neural tube defects by as much as 70 percent. Out of all different types of birth defects, spina bifida is one of the most common as it affects up to 0.7 cases per 1000 live births. It affects white people much more than it does affect black people, but the Irish immigrants are definitely those characterized by the highest incidence. Another peculiar fact is that spina bifida occurs in female infants much more often than in the male ones.

Classification of SB

There are four different types of spina bifida. The mildest of them all is the occulta, which means hidden in Latin. In this type the split in the vertebrae is rather small so the spinal cord cannot protrude. In most cases it is completely asymptomatic and it can only be diagnosed by spinal X-rays. Some cases of spina bifida occulta may be associated with painful sensations. Another type of spina bifida is spina bifida cystica, characterized by a cyst which protrudes through the defected vertebral arch. It is not uncommon for this type of spina bifida to lead to the development of various neurological deficits and hydrocephalus. Meningocele is the leasy common form of spina bifida, also known as posterior meningocele. In this type of medical condition, the vertebrae get developed normally but the meninges get forced into the gaps which are normally located between the vertebrae. The most common causes of posterior meningocele include bony defects with outpouching of meninges, the Currarino syndrome, tumors of the presacral space, tumors of the sacrococcyx and teratoma. Meningocele may occurs at the base of the skull as well, and there also endonasal meningoceles which occurs at the roof of the nasal cavity. The fourth and probably the most serious type of spina bifida is called myelomeningocele. It is characterized by a spinal cord which protrudes through an unfused portion of the spinal column. It is commonly associated with a certain degree of paralysis and a loss of sensation below the level of the defect.

Signs and symptoms

Spina bifida can easily be characterized by certain types of symptoms which can be divided into three categories. The physical complications commonly associated with spina bifida include skin irritations, pressure sores, latex allergies, poor renal function, urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, bowel control problems, bladder control problems, scoliosis, hip dislocation, club foot, other orthopedic abnormalities, paralysis and leg weakness. Spina bifida may also be associated with certain types of neurological complications such as the hydrocephalus which is characterized by abnormal accumulation of the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain ventricles. One should not forget the fact that spina bifida may be related to certain types of social complications. Children who suffer from this dreadful medical condition are commonly more passive in social situations and are often socially immature. These social complications tend to last into the child’s adulthood.


It is impossible to prevent spina bifida in any way, at least not entirely. It can be prevented to a certain degree by taking dietary supplements with folic acid. The best food sources of folic acid include dried beans, fortified breakfast cereals, whole grains, leaf vegetables and various different types of fruit. It is largely recommended for all women who plan to become pregnant to ingest at least 0.4 milligrams of folic acid per day on a regular daily basis from at least three months before the actual conception all the way until the first 12 weeks of pregnancy have passed. 

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