An Anatomical Abnormality
Prevalence: Spina bifida occurs in about 1 in 2,000 births, most frequently among Caucasians of European extraction.
Causes: It's caused by a malformation of a neural tube (the embryonic structure that develops into the brain and spine) that prevents the backbone from closing completely during fetal development. Some cases of neural-tube defects can be detected through tests given to the mother during pregnancy. When one is suspected, the baby usually is delivered by cesarean section so specialists can be on hand during and after the birth.
Symptoms: Spina bifida ranges in severity from practically harmless to causing leg paralysis and bladder- and bowel-control problems.
Treatment: In the most severe cases, the baby is operated on within 48 hours of birth (or in-utero through a new technique that is not yet widely available). Parents then learn how to exercise the baby's legs and feet to prepare her for walking with leg braces and crutches. Some children will eventually need to use a wheelchair. The child will also work with specialists in orthopedics and urology.