Spina bifida (Latin: "split spine") is a developmental birth defect caused by the incomplete closure of the embryonic neural tube. Some vertebrae overlying the spinal cord are not fully formed and remain unfused and open. If the opening is large enough, this allows a portion of the spinal cord to stick out through the opening in the bones. There may or may not be a fluid filled sac surrounding the spinal cord. Other neural tube defects include anencephaly, a condition in which the portion of the neural tube which will become the cerebrum does not close, and encephalocele, which results when other parts of the brain remain unfused.
Spina bifida malformations fall into four categories: ''spina bifida occulta'', ''spina bifida cystica (myelomeningocele)'', ''meningocele'' and ''lipomeningocele''. The most common location of the malformations is the lumbar and sacral areas . Myelomeningocele is the most significant form and it is this that leads to disability in most affected individuals. The terms spina bifida and myelomeningocele are usually used interchangeably.
Spina bifida can be surgically closed after birth, but this does not restore normal function to the affected part of the spinal cord. Intrauterine surgery for spina bifida has also been performed and the safety and efficacy of this procedure is currently being investigated. The incidence of spina bifida can be decreased by up to 75% when daily folic acid supplements are taken ''prior'' to conception.
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