What you should know about babies born with spina bifida

Spina bifida is a spine condition that is usually detected at birth by doctors. It is a neural tube abnormality that appears early in the development of a fetus and can occur anywhere along the spine.

The backbone, which normally protects the spine, does not form and seal properly in spina bifida. As a result, people with spina bifida frequently suffer from spinal cord and nerve damage.

Every year, around 1,500 babies in the United States are born with spina bifida. Although specialists are unaware of the exact causes of the condition, they advise females of childbearing age to ingest folic acid to lower the chance of neural tube defects.

This page discusses baby spine issues, such as spina bifida. It also discusses symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Infant spine problems

infant

The spine is made up of tiny bones called vertebrae that are piled on top of each other with discs in between. A healthy spine should have moderate bends from front to back to help absorb movement stress, but it should run straight down the center of the back.

Infants may have a variety of spine disorders that cause their back to twist or rotate. These are some examples:

  • lordosis, an excessive inward curve of the spine
  • spina bifida
  • scoliosis, an abnormal sideways spinal curve
  • kyphosis, an abnormal forward bending of the spine

The most frequent crippling congenital condition is spina bifida, which means “divided spine.” Doctors categorize the condition as a form of neural tube defect (NTD), in which the neural tube of a growing embryo does not develop or close as predicted. This causes nerve and spinal cord damage.

These complications appear throughout the first 28 days of pregnancy and may occur before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Spina bifida is commonly referred to as the “snowflake condition” because no two cases are alike. Depending on the size and location of the incision, the condition might range from minor to severe.

Spina bifida is classified into three types:

  • Myelomeningocele: This is the most common and severe type of spina bifida. It is also known as spina bifida cystica. Some vertebrae do not form normally in babies with this condition and do not properly encase the spinal cord. As a result, some of the spinal cord, nerves, spinal fluid, and other tissues push through the spine, forming a sac on the baby’s back. An individual may suffer from moderate to severe handicap as a result of nerve involvement.
  • Meningocele: The baby with this kind of spina bifida has a bag bulging from the back. However, because the sac does not contain parts of the spinal cord and there is minimal nerve involvement, the individual may only endure modest problems.
  • Spina bifida occulta:  This is the least severe kind of spina bifida. Because there is merely a gap in the spine and no opening in the back, a person may be unaware that they have this problem. Babies that have spina bifida occulta may have a birthmark, dimple, or hair patch at the base of their spine.

Causes

Doctors are unsure what causes spina bifida. However, it appears to run in families, implying that genetics have a role in the condition.

Taking folic acid when pregnant lowers the chances of having a child with spina bifida. As a result, people who may get pregnant should take this B vitamin on a daily basis. Females of reproductive age should take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms

Spina bifida symptoms vary depending on the severity of the condition and may differ between individuals.

Myelomeningocele symptoms include:

  • bowel and bladder issues
  • paralysis
  • seizures
  • curved spine
  • open spine
  • a skin-covered sac protruding from the back
  • hydrocephalus
  • learning disabilities
  • physical disabilities

A person with a meningocele may have no symptoms other than the sac protruding through their back.

Individuals with spina bifida occulta may be unaware of their condition until late childhood or adulthood. It may not cause any symptoms and, in most cases, does not cause in disability.

Diagnosis

To detect spina bifida before birth, doctors can perform one of three tests:

  • A blood test: During weeks 16–18 of pregnancy, doctors can obtain a blood sample from a woman. The level of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) in the sample is then measured in a laboratory. AFP is a protein produced by the unborn baby and passed to the mother. If the fetus develops spina bifida, around 80% of pregnant people have high levels of AFP.
  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound, often known as a sonogram, is a type of imaging that takes photos of the fetus in the uterus. Ultrasound is widely used by doctors to detect indications of spina bifida, such as an open spine.
  • Amniocentesis: This test involves extracting a little amount of fluid from the uterus using a fine needle. Doctors can examine the sample for AFP levels, which may suggest that the fetus has spina bifida.

Treatment

Spina bifida has no known cure. There are, however, various therapeutic options available for infants with spina bifida.

  • Myelomeningocele: In the case of open spina bifida, a surgeon can seal the hole before or after the infant is born.
  • Hydrocephalus:  If a newborn has hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, a surgeon can insert a tube to drain the fluid. This tube, also known as a shunt, aids in the relief of head pressure and related symptoms.
  • Tethered spinal cord:  The spinal cord adheres to the spinal canal in this condition, limiting proper movement. The spinal cord extends unnaturally as the kid grows. A surgeon can untether or detach the spinal cord from the surrounding tissue, allowing the patient to resume normal movement. Doctors anticipate that up to 50% of children who have surgery for spina bifida shortly after birth will need surgery to untether their spinal cord later on.
  • Catheterization:  Individuals with open spina bifida may have nerve damage that prohibits them from having normal bladder function. A doctor may advise the child’s carers to catheterize the bladder and enable it to drain completely. This is accomplished by putting a small plastic tube known as a catheter into the bladder many times per day. Children with spina bifida must be evaluated on a regular basis by a urologist, a doctor who specializes in the urinary tract.

Furthermore, many people with spina bifida require mobility aids such as braces, crutches, or wheelchairs. Doctors may also advise patients to continue receiving physiotherapy.

Outlook

The outlook of an infant with spina bifida is determined by the severity of their spinal abnormalities. For example, if an infant has full paralysis, hydrocephalus, and other congenital defects, his or her outlook may be bleak.

However, with proper care and medical attention, most infants with spina bifida survive into adulthood.

Conclusion

Spina bifida is one of various baby spine disorders that can occur during the development of a fetus in the uterus. There are three major varieties, with varying degrees of severity. Myelomeningocele is the most dangerous condition, in which a fluid-filled sac containing the spinal cord and other tissues protrudes through the infant’s back.

Meningocele is characterized by the presence of a sac but the absence of the spinal cord or nerves, and the patient may not feel severe symptoms. Spina bifida occulta is the mildest form of spina bifida, in which no sac protrudes through the back yet there is a breach in the spine. Individuals with this type of spina bifida may be unaware of their condition until they reach maturity.

Spina bifida has no cure because the nerve damage is irreversible. Surgery and other therapies, on the other hand, can help people manage their disability and mobility issues.

Sources:

  • https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/data.html
  • https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/about.html
  • https://medlineplus.gov/spinabifida.html#cat_78
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/spina-bifida-in-infants-and-treatment-options
  • https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Spina-Bifida-Information-Page#
  • https://www.spinabifidaassociation.org/resource/occulta/
  • https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/spinal-deformity-in-children-with-myelomeningocele/
  • https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Tethered-Spinal-Cord-Syndrome
  • https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/spinabifida/conditioninfo/treatment
  • https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/facts.html
  • https://www.spinabifidaassociation.org/what-is-spina-bifida-2/