Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) are the defects in brain, spine, or spinal cord of the newborns. NTDs are one of the most common birth defects. They occur when the neural tube fails to close completely during the development of fetus. This leads to number of different defects, depending upon the location of the abnormality.
Types of Neural Tube Defects
There are 2 types of NTDs: Open & Closed
Open NTDs: These kinds of defects occur when the brain or spinal cord of the newborn are exposed at birth. The common types of open NTDs include:
- Spina Bifida
- Spina Bifida Occulta
Close NTDs: These defects occur when the spinal defects are hidden under the skin. Common closed NTDs include:
- Tethered cord
In all the above types of neural tube defects, Spina Bifida is one the most significant neural tube defect. This article will cover the cause, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment & prevention of Spina Bifida.
What is Spina Bifida?
Spina Bifida is a birth defect which means “cleft spine”. It occurs due to incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and meninges. The bones of the spine are not formed properly around the spinal cord. Most of the children suffering from Spina Bifida do not experience problems. However, in severe cases, this defect can make walking or other daily activities difficult without help.
The severe forms of Spina Bifida are:
- Meningocele: The leakage of fluid (cerebrospinal fluid – CSF) makes the skin bulge out.
- Myelomeningocele: It is the most severe form of Spina Bifida and is very rare. The spinal canal is pushed out by spinal nerves. This forms a bulge in the skin. In this case, the nerves are often damage which result in problems with walking, coordination, and bladder/bowel control. In some cases, the skin is open and nerves are exposed.
What causes Spina Bifida?
The cause of Spina Bifida is still not clearly known. However, experts believe that genes are involved. They also believe that obese or diabetic women are more likely to have a baby with this defect.
Symptoms of Spina Bifida
The symptoms of this defect vary from child to child. Usually no symptoms or problems are found in the children with mild defect. A hairy patch may be seen on the back of the baby’s neck.
In severe cases, the nerves are seen coming out of child’s back. Or you may notice the swelling on the child’s spine. In severe cases, due to nerve damage, following symptoms are usually seen:
- Lower limb weakness
- Paralysis of the lower limb
- Urinary Incontinence
- Irritation on the skin
- Abnormal eye movements
- Uncoordinated movements
How can you diagnose Spina Bifida?
A woman during her pregnancy should get regular blood tests, fetal ultrasound, and frequent visits to gynecologist. Spina Bifida can be caught on ultrasound. It the test results suggest NTD, amniocentesis is recommended. This is the diagnosis of choice for Spina Bifida.
After birth, Spina Bifida can be diagnosed clinically by physical examination, X-ray, MRI, or a CT scan.
Treatment of Spina Bifida
Treatment also depends on the severity of the defect. Mild defects usually do not need any kind of medications or treatment. However, in severe cases, surgery might be required.
In all, there is no specific treatment for Spina Bifida
Remember: Prevention is better than cure. Pregnant women must take proper diet and folic acid. And they must avoid drugs that are contraindicated in pregnancy.
How to prevent Neural Tube Defects – Spina Bifida
Folic acid is the key to prevention of Spina Bifida. Folic acid is an essential vitamin for the proper development of fetus. Taking folic acid regularly does not guarantee giving birth to healthy baby, but it does help.