October is Spina Bifida Awareness month. At NSPC, we thought it was the perfect time to share some facts about this often misunderstood condition.
Many people are surprised to learn that spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects in the United States. Approximately eight babies are born each day in the U.S. with some form of spina bifida.
Some are also unaware of the fact that spina bifida is not just a single condition. Rather, it is a term that literally means “split spine,” and there are four types that can cause a variety of complications that range from mild to severe:
Occult Spinal Dysraphism (OSD) – This is the mildest form of spina bifida where the vertebrae is not completely closed. Splits in the vertebrae are small, so the spinal cord is not protruding. In many cases, the only sign of the condition will be a dimple in the skin or a birthmark. Many people with OSD do not even know they have it.
Spina Bifida Occulta (SBO) – Like with OSD, many people with this form of spina bifida also don’t know they have it. However, a small group of people will experience pain or neurological symptoms. Often SBO is discovered during an x-ray.
Meningocele – In this form of spina bifida, the vertebrae develop normally, but the meninges are forced into the gaps between the vertebrae. Because the nervous system remains undamaged, there are usually only minor symptoms if any at all.
Myelomeningocele – With this form, individuals have an unfused portion of their spinal column. The spinal cord protrudes through the opening which can result in complications such as nerve damage and other disabilities.
How It Is Treated
The most common type of spina bifida requiring treatment is myelomeningocele. This is often treated surgically in the first few days of life. In some cases, it is treated in-utero. This can help prevent spinal cord and brain damage at the earliest stages. Most children who are treated grow up normally and are not paralyzed. However, outcomes vary widely depending on the severity of the condition.
Ongoing treatment is sometimes necessary, requiring a team of neurosurgeons, urologists, physical therapists, psychologists, and orthopedists to manage the wide variety of symptoms and complications.
Prevention Is the Best Strategy
While any woman of childbearing age has the chance of having a baby with spina bifida, there are ways to minimize the risk. Women who are old enough to have babies should take 400 mcg folic acid before and during the first three months of pregnancy. Women who have a child or sibling with spina bifida, should take 4000 mcg of folic acid. Since the U.S. Public Health Service first recommended that women of child-bearing age should take folic acid, the number of cases of babies born with spina bifida has dropped substantially.
For more information about Spina Bifida Awareness Month, go to www.spinabifidaassociation.org.
To learn more about treatment for spina bifida and other congenital spinal defects, contact a specialist at NSPC at 516-255-9031.