Spina bifida is a very serious birth defect that affects about one in every 1,000 babies born in the U.S. each year, according to the Spina Bifida Association of America. It results when a baby's spine fails to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. In some cases, the spinal cord and the membrane covering it protrude from the child's back.
Diagnosis: In some cases, spina bifida can be detected during pregnancy. If that is the case, the baby is usually delivered by cesarean section so specialists can be present during the birth. There are three forms of spina bifida: occulta, meningocele, and myelomeningocele. Occulta, the least severe form, is a small defect in one or more of the spine's vertebrae. The spinal cord and nerves are usually okay so the child won't experience any problems. Meningocele, the rarest form, consists of a cyst or lump surrounding the spinal cord and protruding through an opening in the spine. The most severe form of spina bifida is myelomeningocele, in which a cyst affects the membranes around the spinal canal and the nerve roots of the spinal cord as well as the spinal cord itself. Some children with this form of spina bifida are left with some leg paralysis and bladder and bowel problems.
Treatment: Spina bifida occulta doesn't usually require treatment. Meningocele can typically be fixed with surgery without causing paralysis. Myelomeningocele spina bifida will most likely require surgery within 24 to 48 hours of birth. The surgery is designed to help prevent further nerve damage, but it can't reverse the existing damage.
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