Spina Bifida: Causes, Signs, and Treatment

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  • 0:30 What Is Spina Bifida?
  • 1:26 Why Does Spina Bifida Occur?
  • 2:34 The Different Kinds of…
  • 4:08 Clinical Signs,…
  • 5:02 Treatment for Spina Bifida
  • 5:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

We will examine a condition known as spina bifida. It's a condition that develops during pregnancy and has three major types. You'll learn what they are, how they can be diagnosed, and how they can be treated.

Fetal Development

We've all heard of the saying that something sometimes 'doesn't go according to script,' meaning whatever it is that we were expecting to develop throughout our plan, day, or whatnot didn't go according to plan. Sometimes this type of improper development of events isn't so much limited to weird Hollywood cliffhangers, hiccups at work, or botched robbery attempts; it has more to do with the development of an unborn child.

What Is Spina Bifida?

Namely, a condition called spina bifida is one of those events. Spina bifida is a condition arising as a result of the defective development of the neural tube, which may lead to neurological impairment in a human born with this defect. This defective development causes the spinal column - the protective housing around your spinal cord - to develop an opening through which the spinal cord may actually protrude. These openings typically occur in the lower back, but may also occur in the neck or upper back as well.

All of this can lead to neurological impairment since your backbone is like a house that encloses a much more sensitive and important dweller, the spinal cord. If the house's roof is taken off, then the person living inside is exposed to all sorts of nasty weather that can hurt them. The same thing happens with the spinal cord; it can become damaged if there's a defect in the spinal column itself.

Why Does Spina Bifida Occur?

Certain risk factors, such as obesity and the deficiency of folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, have been noted in mothers who give birth to babies with spina bifida. Since there are a quadrillion forms of vitamin B, the way to recall that vitamin B9 is to blame here is by simply realizing that a mother's pregnancy lasts 9 months, and this condition occurs while the mother is pregnant with her baby! Besides vitamins, genetics may also play a role as some people born with spina bifida have a familial history of this condition.

Whether it's genes, environmental factors, or both, the neural tube fails to develop properly. The neural tube is this weird looking structure that gives rise to your brain and spinal cord. During the first month of pregnancy, the cells that will become the neural tube are supposed to fuse together. If they do not, a defect or opening in the spine results. Therefore, you can say that the neural tube's development just 'didn't go according to script,' and we don't fully understand why.

The Different Kinds of Spina Bifida

What's more important to note is that some openings will be worse than others. The mildest form of spina bifida is known as spina bifida occulta, where occulta means 'hidden' because it's hard to detect and many times found by conducting an X-ray for something completely unrelated. Here, there is a gap in the spinal column, but the nerves and spinal cord do not protrude out of it and the skin of the person remains intact over that area.

A moderate and the least common form of spina bifida, called a meningocele, may occur as well. In this case, the protective covering of the spinal cord, known as the meninges, as well as some of the fluid surrounding the spinal cord, known as cerebrospinal fluid, protrudes out through the defect in a sac-like fashion. However, the spinal cord itself does not stick out of the defect, and the skin overlying the defect remains intact.

This is in contrast to the most severe form of spina bifida, known as a meningomyelocele. A meningomyelocele is the form of spina bifida most often associated with complications as a result of this condition. This type of spina bifida is where not only do the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid stick out of the defect, but so too does the spinal cord. In severe cases, the skin may not even enclose this area, thereby predisposing the baby to life-threatening infections.

Clinical Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

Besides an obvious protrusion in the latter two forms of spina bifida, the mild and moderate forms of spina bifida may show no other signs or symptoms. However, in the most severe form, the following may result as well:

  • Paralysis of the legs
  • Loss of urinary control
  • The inability to control defecation

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