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Statistical Data about Neural Tube Defects

The two most common causes of infant and fetal mortality arespina bifida and anencephaly. There are several thousand fetuses in Americaaffected by such neural tube defects each year. There are one third ofsuch cases which end up with elective or spontaneous abortion. Anencephaly is aterrible disease which is associated with stillborn infants or infants who dieshortly after their birth. Spina bifida is not that severe because there aremany children affected by it who still manage to survive due to extensivesurgical and medical care. It is very hard to determine any long term prognosisbecause certain medical complications can be managed much more efficiently withmodern technology. Infants affected by spina bifida whose defect getssurgically repaired shortly after they are born have a high rate of survivalinto their third decade in life. These survivors of spina bifida are verylikely to suffer from certain severe types of disabilities and they also oftenhave troubles manifested as psychosocial maladjustment. Various neurological defects or the repairs ofthem such as syringobulbia, syringomyelia, tethered cord, endocrineabnormalities, Arnold-Chiari type II malformation, hydrocephalus and paralysismay also be present. Certain types of neurologic deficits may additionally occur andthese may involve learning disabilities, sexual dysfunction, bowel dysfunction,bladder dysfunction and deformation of the limbs and the spine. Spina bifida isobviously associated with certain emotional issues but it is also involved in asubstantial monetary cost. The total cost of a single case of spina bifida overthe lifetime of a person is approximately 294,000 dollars. Each year, one outof 1,000 pregnancies gets affected either by spina bifida or anencephaly. Thesemedical conditions are known of ever since the beginnings of mankind, but therecent years have shown a significant progress in terms of prevention and propertreatment options. Fortunately enough, the modern science and technology hasmade it possible for at least half of cases of neural tube defects to beprevented effectively. The best way of prevention is intake ofprescribed doses of folic acid supplements one month before the conception andduring the first three months of the pregnancy. The suggested dailyrecommendations for folic acid are 400 micrograms, while pregnant women need totake 600 micrograms. There are also certain new strategies for prevention stillin the developmental phases in the fields of molecular genetics, developmentalbiology and biochemistry. In spite of all the developments and measures ofprevention the exact cause of neural tube defects is still largely unknown inmost cases.

Genetic and Environmental Causes

Causes of neural tube defects may be described either asgenetic or environmental ones. According to certain scientific studies, thereis a geographic and temporal variability which may be associated with theoccurrence of neural tube defects. They may also be associated with asocioeconomic status, ethnic background and race of a woman in question. Insome cases, both genetic and environmental factors are combined so that neuraltube defects occur. There have also been certain epidemics of neural tubedefects which significantly add to the seriousness of the environmental causes. Certainvariations in rates of racial or ethnic background associated with neural tubedefects is nearly impossible to follow and can only be interpreted in a rathercomplex way. Groups of people with a significantly lower socioeconomic statusare commonly at higher risk of having pregnancies affected by differentsorts of neural tube defects. It is rather difficult to identify any specificfactors associated with the development of neural tube defects. Among the rareones which have been identified up to date, they are obesity, hyperthermia in earlypregnancy, fever in early pregnancy, maternal use of different sorts of antiepilepticdrugs and medicaments and maternal diabetes. One of the obvious candidatesamong the causes of neural tube defects includes poor nutrition as one of themost common ones. Nutrition is a rather variable parameter and it variesgreatly among different social classes, cultures and countries.

Treatment Options

Neural tube defects occur once the neural tissues getdamaged due to exposure to certain types of toxic substances in the amnioticfluid and also because of the occurrence of trauma to the neural tissuetriggered by contact with the birth canal and the uterine wall. Spina bifidamay sometimes be treated by utilizing a surgical intervention in the uterus,but only if the surgery is performed within 22 weeks since the gestation occurred. There arealways experiments and new options but all cases of neural tube defects arerather complex and present quite a challenge for the modern medicine and itstechnology. The problem with spina bifida is that it often may trigger theonset of several other medical conditions such as skin ulcerations, calculi,urinary tract infections and so on.

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