Understanding Spina Bifida
While some might not know how to pronounce it or even that it exists, spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects in children in the United States. Though the rates of spina bifida have declined in recent years, of the 4 million babies born each year in the U.S., 1,500 to 2,000 will be born with spina bifida. That's enough of a percentage to warrant a better grasp of what spina bifida is and what might be some of the risk factors.
What is spina bifida?
Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the bones of the spine (vertebrae) do not form properly around the spinal cord. Spina bifida means "split spine," and happens when a baby is in the womb and the spinal column fails to completely close.
Are all cases of spina bifida the same?
The Spina Bifida Association notes that there are four different types that can occur:
* Occult Spinal Dysraphism (OSD): A dimple in the lower back might be indicative of OSD, though plenty of babies have such dimples and don't have OSD. A doctor will need to run tests, but other indicators of OSD could be red marks, tufts of hair or small lumps. When a child has OSD, the spinal cord may not grow properly, resulting in serious problems as the child grows up.
* Spina Bifida Occulta: This is commonly known as "hidden spina bifida" because a signifcant percentage of healthy people (roughly 15 percent) have it but do not know it. Because it isn't harmful and has no signs, spina bifida occulta is typically only revealed when people have an X-ray of their back.
* Meningocele: Meningocele causes the spinal cord to come through the spine like a sac that is pushed out. While individuals with this condition may have minor disabilities, there is typically no nerve damage.
* Myelomeningocele: The most severe form of spina bifida, myelomeningocele happens when parts of the spinal cord and nerves come through the open part of the spine, resulting in nerve damage and other disabilities. Of children with this condition, 70 to 90 percent also have excessive fluid on their brains because the spinal cord cannot drain the fluid effectively. As fluid builds up, pressure and swelling occur, and without treatment brain damage might happen.
What Causes Spina Bifida?
The exact cause of spina bifida is unknown. Doctors believe that both genetics and environment influence whether or not a child is born with spina bifida. Women who have had one child with spina bifida are more likely to have another child with spina bifida. Other risk factors include excessive use of alcohol, diabetes, obesity, folic acid deficiency, and exposure to certain chemicals.
To learn more about spina bifida, visit the Spina Bifida Association Web site at www.spinabifidaassociation.org.