Spina Bifida Awareness Month

Approximately 1,400 babies are born with spina bifida in the United States each year. It can affect every child differently, but typically comes in three main forms: spina bifida occulta, meningocele, and myelomeningocele.

Spina bifida occulta, or “hidden” spina bifida, is the most common form of the condition, affecting up to 15% of the general population. It’s also the mildest form of spina bifida; a gap forms in the spine, but no opening or growth develops in a baby’s back and the spinal cord and nerves are left relatively unaffected.

Another form of spina bifida, meningocele, causes a sac of fluid to develop in a baby’s back, but does not contain any part of the spinal cord and causes little to no nerve damage, leading to only minor disabilities.

The most serious form of this condition, myelomeningocele, typically involves a sac of fluid forming within a gap in a baby’s back which may contain part of the spinal cord and nerves, potentially leading to severe disabilities in a person’s lower body.

Spina bifida is usually diagnosed within the first 28 days of pregnancy through an alpha-fetoprotein test, an ultrasound, or an amniocentesis test, though in certain cases, it may be diagnosed after birth.

Several comorbidities are associated with spina bifida. Approximately 68% of children diagnosed with the condition develop a latex allergy. Additionally, it increases a child’s risk of experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Eighty percent of children with spina bifida also develop hydrocephalus, a condition which causes an abnormal buildup of fluid in the ventricles of the brain.

Due to the symptoms of spina bifida and the various conditions that may accompany it, people with this condition undergo an average of at least eight surgeries by 18 years of age. Many babies will require spinal surgery to prevent further injury and infection, and babies who also develop hydrocephalus will require a ventricular shunt, which may need to be replaced once they reach two years of age as well as several years later.

While there is no cure for spina bifida, surgery can prevent the condition from worsening. Additionally, pre-natal care can help prevent spina bifida from developing. Four hundred micrograms of folic acid are recommended for new mothers every day before and during early pregnancy. Controlling fevers, body heat, and chronic conditions such as diabetes or obesity can also help.

A doctor can help you identify potential risks and create a treatment plan to prevent spina bifida and other congenital conditions at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Women’s Health Center. To schedule an appointment or receive more information, please call (718) 291-3276.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.