Spina Bifida is a fault in the spinal column in which one or more vertebrae (the bones which form the backbone), fail to perform properly, leaving a gap or split. The spinal cord and the spine form part of the neutral tube. This develops very early in pregnancy, between the 14th and 25th day after conception. The brain and spinal tube develop from this neural tube. Spina Bifida is caused by the failure of the tube to develop properly. Instead of the posterior (backward) protective arm being whole, it is divided, or bifid. The fault may occur in one or more of the vertebrae, but it is most common around waist-level.

What Causes Spina Bifida?

There is no single known cause. Some causative factors may include nutrition, environment, lifestyle and genetics. Addition of the B vitamin, folic acid, to the diet of women of childbearing age may reduce incidence of neural tube defects by at least 50%.

What are the Effects of Spina Bifida?

There are varying degrees of paralysis, loss of sensation, bowel and bladder complications. Damage to the spinal cord is permanent and irreversible. Individuals may have some form of learning disability. Spina Bifida is often accompanied by Hydrocephalus.

What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is the excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired through illness or accident. Over 80% of children born with spina bifida also have hydrocephalus at birth or develop it later.

Treatment and Support

Thirty years ago, many babies born with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus died. Advances in surgical and medical treatment and more effective methods of controlling hydrocephalus dramatically improved life expectancy.

Facilities generally available for children with special needs have improved. These services include specialist health visitors, regional assessment centers, physiotherapy, pre-school care, and toy libraries. Advice and information on mobility, continence, education, employment and independence training are also now more widely available.

Source: Spina Bifida Association.