Spina bifida, a birth defect marked by the bones of the spine failing to form properly, can be mild or serious, depending upon the type. It’s important to understand not only how your infant developed spina bifida, but also the treatment options and prognosis, which will serve to help you learn more about how to help your baby and what to expect.
What is Infant Spina Bifida?
As aforementioned, with spina bifida, the vertebrae of the baby’s spine does not completely enclose the raw nerves of the spinal column, which leaves those raw nerves subject to malady. Spina bifida can happen anywhere along the spine, though it is the most common in the lower back.
There are a few different types of spina bifida: spina bifida occulta affects one or more vertebrae without apparent damage to the spinal cord: meningocele, (the covering around the spinal cord nerves) in which the bones start to come out of the opening in the spine; and myelomeningocele is when parts of the spinal column come through the back, sometimes appearing to be a skin-covered sac. Often myelomeningocele is accompanied with hydrocephalus, when cranial fluids accumulate due to myelomeningocele.
What are the Symptoms of Infant Spina Bifida?
Most children and adults with spina bifida occulta don’t even know they have it, but it can be identified via medical imaging tests such as ultrasounds and MRI.
Mild symptoms could be slight such as a dimple, birthmark, or hairy patch on his or her back, usually on the area of the spine where the bifida is present. More severe cases of spina bifida have symptoms such as nerves coming out of the back (sometimes in a sack and sometimes just raw, exposed nerves), or the child may have paralysis, weakness, or numbness in the affected limbs.
What is the Treatment for Infant Spina Bifida?
The most common form of spina bifida is spina bifida occulta, and statistically 40% of those who have it don’t even know it. Most cases of spina bifida include appointments with various therapists to do everything from protect the nerves to meeting with nutritional specialists regarding bone growth.
It is generally a long and painful process to protect the nerves and grow the vertebrae, but it is possible. Treatment for mylomeningocele may often treat both the myelomeningocele and the hydrocephalus through a treatment called shunting, when the fluid in the brain is relieved.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Infant Spina Bifida?
Children with spina bifida often have a number of learning disabilities and sometimes cognitive disabilities. These disabilities may include trouble paying attention, expressing or understanding language, and grasping reading and math.
Other secondary conditions that may be present immediately or develop with age include an allergy to latex (a kind of rubber), tendinitis, obesity, skin breakdown, gastrointestinal disorders, sexual disorders, attaining and maintaining mobility, depression, and social issues.
Spina bifida can also cause paralysis, leg weakness, bladder and bowl problems, abnormal eye movement, orthopedic problems, and impaired executive functions.
Is Spina Bifida a Birth Defect?
In the past, spina bifida has been referred to as an isolated birth defect. Doctors haven’t been sure of what causes it, how it happens to children of healthy families, and how to treat it. However, recent evidence has shown that doctors can reduce the risk of spina bifida by 70% if the mother takes folic acid while pregnant.
Additionally, the doctor can check the spine of the child as early as 21 weeks of pregnancy to determine the health of the spine. While there is nothing that the doctor can do except monitor the health of the spine, it helps the medical staff members and parents to prepare if the child indicates spina bifida. Anytime that a condition is preventable indicates that a child born with this injury is victim to a mistake somewhere down the line.