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Spina Bifida

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida (SB) is a neural tube defect (a disorder involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings) caused by the failure of the fetus's spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. Babies born with SB sometimes have an open lesion on their spine where significant damage to the nerves and spinal cord has occurred.

Although the spinal opening can be surgically repaired shortly after birth, the nerve damage is permanent, resulting in varying degrees of paralysis of the lower limbs. Even when there is no lesion present there may be improperly formed or missing vertebrae and accompanying nerve damage. In addition to physical and mobility difficulties, some individuals have some form of learning disability.

Although the condition can be detected by ultrasound the degree of disability cannot be determined until after birth.

Can an operation cure this condition?

There are operations which can be undertaken in this condition with varying degrees of success. However every Spina Bifida case is different and they will need to be assessed by the paediatric surgeon. Surgery to close the newborn's spinal opening is generally performed within 24 hours after birth to minimise the risk of infection and to preserve existing function in the spinal cord.

Is there any treatment?

There is no cure for Spina Bifida because the nerve tissue cannot be replaced or repaired. Treatment for a variety of effects of SB may include surgery, medication, and physiotherapy. Many individuals with SB will need assistive devices such as braces, crutches, or wheelchairs. Ongoing therapy, medical care, and/or surgical treatments may be necessary to prevent and manage complications throughout the individual's life.

How can Spina Bifida be detected?

An alpha fetoprotein test can detect Spina Bifida. This is where a raised maternal serum alpha fetoprotein (MSAFP) is detected in your blood, usually at around 16-18 weeks into pregnancy.

You choose whether or not to have the screening test. It is a personal decision for you and your partner to make after you have had time to think about it. If a raised MSAFP is detected you will then be recalled for a detailed scan and the condition, if present, will be confirmed by ultrasound.

Will every women with a raised MSAFP have a baby with Spina Bifida?

No. The majority of women with raised MSAFP will have perfectly healthy babies. There are other causes of raised MSAFP. These can be that the pregnancy is further along what was previously thought; you are carrying twins, or most likely it is simply a normal variation between women and the level of AFP in the blood.

Can anything be done to prevent Spina Bifida?

Birth defects can happen in any family. Many things can affect a pregnancy, including family genes and things you may come in contact with during pregnancy. Recent studies have shown that taking folic acid before, and during, pregnancy may reduce the risk of having a baby with SB.

How can I get more information?

Further information on Spina Bifida can be obtained from:

Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus
Tel: 01733 555988
Link opens in new windowwww.asbah.org