For the week of September 2 thru September 8, 1998  

What is spina bifida?

Express Staff Writer

Spina bifida is a disabling birth defect of the spinal column resulting from the failure of a baby’s spine to close properly during the first month of its mother’s pregnancy, according to the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New Orleans.

According to the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, the spine is made up of 33 bones, or vertebrae, which have two main functions. The spine provides an anchor for muscles as the body moves, and it protects the spinal cord.

The association reports that the spinal cord and spine form a part of the neural tube, from which the brain and spinal tube develop. Spina bifida causes the vertebrae to remain flat, rather than curved or closed to protect the spinal cord.

Spina bifida is the most frequently occurring, permanently disabling birth defect, and affects one out of every 1,000 newborns in the United States.

According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, there are three types of spina bifida:

  • Spina Bifida Occulta: There is an opening, or flat part, in one or more of the vertebrae, but no damage is done to the spinal cord.

  • Meningocele: The protective covering around the spinal cord has pushed out through the opening, or flat part, of the vertebrae in a sac called the "meningoele." The spinal cord remains intact, and this form can be repaired with minimal or no damage to the spinal cord.

  • Myelomeningocele: This is the most severe form, and a portion of the spinal cord protrudes through the skin, and in some cases tissue and nerves are exposed.

According to the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, the most serious form of spina bifida may cause muscle weakness or paralysis, a loss of bowel and bladder control, and fluid may accumulate in the brain, which can cause brain damage, seizures, or blindness. This is known as hydrocephalus, which is controlled with a surgical procedure called shunting that drains the fluid. There are many more complications that may arise with spina bifida.

Some people with spina bifida experience learning disabilities and limited mobile skills.

The cause of spina bifida is unknown, but the future for treatment appears hopeful. Medical and rehabilitative care helps those with spina bifida to be independent and productive.


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