Spina Bifida (myelomeningocele) is a congenital disability that affects the spinal cord. It occurs during the early stages of pregnancy when the neural tube fails to close properly. The condition can vary in severity and can cause a range of physical and cognitive impairments.
Types of Spina Bifida
There are three types of Spina Bifida. Occulta is the mildest form and may not present any visible symptoms. Meningocele involves a sac of fluid that protrudes through an opening in the spine. Myelomeningocele is the most severe form and involves a sac of fluid that contains the spinal cord and nerves.
The symptoms of myelomeningocele can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Common symptoms include: difficulty walking, muscle weakness, bladder and bowel dysfunction, hydrocephalus, scoliosis, and cognitive impairments.
- Difficulty walking: People with myelomeningocele may have difficulty walking due to muscle weakness or paralysis in the legs. They may require assistive devices such as braces, crutches, or wheelchairs to aid with mobility.
- Muscle weakness: Spina Bifida can cause muscle weakness or paralysis in the lower limbs, which can make it difficult to perform daily activities such as climbing stairs or getting in and out of a chair.
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction: Individuals with myelomeningocele may experience bladder and bowel dysfunction, which can cause incontinence or difficulty controlling bowel movements. This can have a significant impact on daily life and may require management through medication, catheterization, or other methods..
- Cognitive impairments: Spina Bifida can also cause cognitive impairments, which can affect learning, memory, and attention. This can make it difficult to succeed in school or in the workplace and may require support and accommodations to help individuals reach their full potential.
Causes of Spina Bifida
The exact cause of Spina Bifida is unknown, but several factors may increase the risk of developing the condition. These include: genetics, low levels of folic acid during pregnancy, exposure to certain chemicals, and certain medications.
During pregnancy, a blood test or ultrasound may be used to screen for the condition. After birth, an MRI or CT scan may be used to confirm the diagnosis.
- Blood test: During pregnancy, a blood test can be used to screen for myelomeningocele by measuring levels of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). Elevated levels of AFP can indicate a neural tube defect.
- Ultrasound: An ultrasound can also be used during pregnancy to screen for myelomeningocele. An ultrasound can detect the presence of an opening in the spine and assess the severity of the condition.
- MRI: After birth, an MRI may be to confirm the diagnosis of Spina Bifida. An MRI can provide detailed images of the spine and help identify the location and severity of the defect.
Treatment for myelomeningocele varies depending on the type and severity of the condition. In some cases, surgery may be to repair the opening in the spine.
Prevention of Spina Bifida
While the exact cause of Spina Bifida is unknown, there are several steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of developing the condition. These include: taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy, avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals and medications during pregnancy, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
- Taking folic acid supplements: Folic acid is a B vitamin that is important for the development of the neural tube in a developing fetus..
- Avoiding harmful chemicals and medications: Exposure to certain chemicals and medications during pregnancy can increase the risk of Spina Bifida. Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid exposure to harmful substances such as lead, mercury, and certain medications like valproic acid.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy can reduce the risk of Spina Bifida. Genetic counseling: In some cases, myelomeningocele may be a genetic mutation. Genetic counseling can help identify individuals who may be at increased risk and provide information about options for family planning.
- Screening tests: Prenatal screening tests such as ultrasound and amniocentesis can detect myelomeningocele and other neural tube defects before birth. This can allow for early intervention and treatment to improve outcomes for the baby.
Living with Spina Bifida
Living with Spina Bifida can present many challenges, but with the right support and resources, individuals with the condition can lead fulfilling lives. This may include access to healthcare, education, employment opportunities, and assistive devices to aid with mobility and independence.
Spina Bifida is a congenital disability that can vary in severity and cause a range of physical and cognitive impairments. Taking steps to prevent the condition and providing support to individuals with Spina Bifida can help them to lead fulfilling lives.