Spina bifida is a condition where the bones in the vertebral column do not fully cover the spinal cord, leaving it exposed. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and it can affect physical and intellectual development.
In spina bifida, the neural tube and spinal column do not develop properly. The spine does not close fully, and the spinal column remains exposed along several vertebrae. Exposure means the spinal column is more at risk of infection. Excess cerebrospinal fluid can build up and result in hydrocephalus, and this increases the chances of learning difficulties.Symptoms
An infant who is born with spina bifida may have or develop:
Causes and risk factors
- weakness or paralysis in the legs
a lack of sensation in the skin
a build up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), leading to hydrocephalus, and possibly brain damage
The nervous system will also be more prone to infections, some of which can be life-threatening.
It is unclear exactly what causes spina bifida. Scientists say it is most likely due to a combination of inherited, or genetic, environmental and nutritional factors.Folic acid:
Spina bifida is more likely if a mother does not have enough folic acid during the pregnancy, although the reason is unclear. All women of reproductive age should make sure their folic acid intake is adequate. Since the introduction of folic acid recommendations in the U.S. in 1992, the number of births involving neural tube defects has fallen.Plant proteins, iron, magnesium, and niacin:
A low intake of these nutrients before conception may be associated with an increased risk of neural tube defects by two to five times.Family history:
If one infant is born with spina bifida, there is a 4 percent chance that a future sibling will have the same condition.Medications:
Drugs such as valproate, used to treat epilepsy or bipolar disorder, have been associated with a higher risk of giving birth to babies with congenital defects, such as spina bifida.Diabetes:
A woman who has diabetes is more likely to have a baby with spina bifida, than one who does not.Obesity:
A woman whose body mass index (BMI) is 30 or above has a higher risk of having a baby with spina bifida.