What are neural tube
Neural tube defects (NTDs) are serious birth defects that involve incomplete
development of the brain, spinal cord and or protective coverings for
these organs. There are three types of NTDs: anencephaly, encephalocele,
and spina bifida.
Babies born with anencephaly
have underdeveloped brains and incomplete skulls. Most infants born
with anencephaly do not survive more than a few hours after birth. Encephalocele
results in a hole in the skull through which brain tissue protrudes.
Although most babies with encephalocele do not live or are severely
retarded, early surgery has been able to save a few children.
What is spina bifida?
Spina bifida, the most common NTD, is one of the most devastating of
all birth defects. It results from the failure of the spine to close
properly during the first month of pregnancy. In severe cases, the spinal
cord protrudes through the back and may be covered by skin or a thin
membrane. Surgery to close a newborn's back is generally performed within
24 hours after birth to minimize the risk of infection and to preserve
existing function in the spinal cord.
Because of the paralysis
resulting from the damage to the spinal cord, people born with spina
bifida may need surgeries and other extensive medical care. The condition
can also cause bowel and bladder complications. A large percentage of
children born with spina bifida have hydrocephalus, the accumulation
of fluid in the brain. Hydrocephalus is controlled by a surgical procedure
called "shunting" which relieves the fluid build up in the brain by
redirecting it into the abdominal area. Most children born with spina
bifida live well into adulthood as a result of today's sophisticated
How offen does it
- All women capable
of becoming pregnant are at risk of having a child born with spina
- 90-95 percent of
babies born with spina bifida are born to parents with no family history
of spina bifida
- Each year in the U.S.
about 4000 pregnancies are affected by spina bifida and anencephaly,
an average of 11 pregnancies per day
- Spina bifida affects
approximately 1 out of every 1000 newborns in the U.S.
What is the risk of
- If parents have one
child with spina bifida, the risk of recurrence increases to between
1 and 5 out of 100.
- If one parent has
spina bifida, the chances of having a child with spina bifida are
between 1 and 5 percent.
- If both parents have
spina bifida, the chances of having a child with spina bifida increases
to 15 percent.
Can spina bifida be
The cause of spina bifida is unknown. Recent studies have shown that
one factor that increases the risk of having a baby with spina bifida
is low folic acid intake before conception and during the first few
weeks of pregnancy. If all women of childbearing age were to consume
0.4 mg of folic acid prior to becoming pregnant and during the first
trimester of pregnancy, the incidence of folic acid preventable spina
bifida could be reduced by up to 75 percent. For more information, go
to Folic Acid Campaign.
What about learning
Some people with spina bifida do experience learning problems. They
may have difficulty with paying attention, expressing or understanding
language, organizing, sequencing and grasping reading and math.
What about physical
People with spina bifida need to learn mobility skills, and often with
the use of crutches, braces, or wheelchairs can achieve more independence.
Also, with new techniques they can become independent in managing their
bowel and bladder problems. Physical disabilities like spina bifida
can have profound effects on one's emotional and social development.
It is important that health care professionals, teachers, and parents
understand these physical capabilities and limitations. To promote personal
growth, they should encourage children with spina bifida (within limits
of safety and health) to be independent, to participate in activities
with their non-disabled peers and to assume responsibility for their
own care. This should be stressed continually as they approach adulthood.
What are secondary
conditions associated with spina bifida?
Special attention is needed to identify and treat secondary disabilities.
Due to the wide range of neurological damage and mobility impairment
it can be difficult to identify some secondary disabilities. Attention
should be focused on the psychological and social development of children
and young adults with spina bifida. Examples of secondary conditions
associated with spina bifida are latex allergy, tendonitis, obesity,
skin breakdown, gastrointestinal disorders, learning disabilities, attaining
and retaining mobility, depression, and social and sexual issues.
What is the risk for
While it is not known how this allergy develops, anybody can develop
a latex allergy. However, certain groups of individuals have been identified
as having a greater risk of becoming latex allergic. Those at higher
risk include people who are frequently exposed to latex (rubber) products,
such as children and adults with spina bifida and health professionals.
Research has shown that spina bifida patients have the potential to
become allergic (to some degree) to latex.
Typical symptoms include
watery eyes, wheezing, hives, rash, swelling, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis
( a life threatening reaction). These responses can occur when items
containing latex touch the skin, the mucous membranes (like the mouth,
genitals, bladder or rectum), open areas or bloodstream (especially
during surgery). Anyone with a latex allergy should avoid exposure to
all products that contain latex.
For more information
about spina bifida and related conditions, click on the following:
Spina Bifida Association
of America (http://www.sbaa.org)
[ top of page ]