Spina bifida is a defect in fetal development in which part of the spinal cord and its membranes in a newborn baby gapes through a gap in the spine.
This can affect how the skin on your back looks. In severe cases, it may be difficult for a person to walk or perform daily activities without assistance.
The exact underlying cause of spina bifida is unknown. Scientists believe that part of the development of the disease is influenced by genes and the environment. For example, if a woman has one child with spina bifida, then there is a high probability that the second child will have the same disease. Women who are obese or have diabetes are also at risk of having a baby with spina bifida.
The main symptoms of this defect are: paralysis of the lower extremities, urinary incontinence and mental retardation, stimulated by the traditionally occurring lack of brain development – hydrocephalus. In the case of fetal spina bifida, this defect is traditionally accompanied by a significant increase in the level of alpha-fetoprotein in the fetal fluid surrounding the embryo in the womb.
This defect can be diagnosed as early as the 16th week of pregnancy by a maternal blood test; it is confirmed by amniocentesis and ultrasound examination of the fetus, which makes early termination of pregnancy likely.
Treatment for the most serious spina bifida (myelomeningocele) depends on the specific problems that the condition causes. Treatment may consist of surgery, physical therapy, and the use of braces and other aids. Some babies have problems day by day, while others don’t.
Most babies who are born with spina bifida survive into preschool age or longer.