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Spina Bifida: What is it?
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Spina Bifida: What is it?

What is it?

Spina Bifida is Latin for split spine and is a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube. For some, the vertebrae overlying the spinal cord is not fully formed and remains un-fused and open.

Spina bifida is considered part of a group of birth defects called neural tube defects. They affect the embryonic structure that develops into the baby's brain, spinal cord and tissues that enclose them. The condition is not just one. It is multiple affects the mind, body, and spirit. But no two cases of Spina Bifida is the same. Each case is different. 

Four Main Categories of Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida Occulta:

In the occult, there is no opening of the back, but the outer part of some of the vertebrae are not completely closed. The split in the vertebrae is so small that the spinal cord does not protrude. The skin at the site of the lesion may be normal, or there may be a dimple in the skin, a lipoma, a dermal sinus or a birthmark. Many people with this form do not know that they have it.

Spina Bifida Cystica:

In this form, the un-fused portion of the spinal column allows the spinal cord to protrude through an opening in the overlying vertebrae. The meningeal membranes that cover the spinal cord may or may not form a sac enclosing the spinal elements.


In this form, the outer faces of some vertebrae are open. The meninges are damaged and pushed out through the opening, appearing as a sac or cyst that contains cerebrospinal fluid. The spinal cord and nerves are not involved and their function is normal.


This is the most serious and common form. The un-fused portion of the spinal column allows the spinal cord to protrude through an opening. The meningeal membranes that cover the spinal cord form a sac enclosing the spinal elements. Spina bifida with myeloschisis is the most severe form of spina bifida cystica. The area is represented by a flattened, plate-like mass of nervous tissue with no overlying membrane. The exposure of these nerves and tissues makes the baby more prone to life-threatening infections.

Tethered Spinal Cord syndrome symptoms include Lower body pain, leg weakness, incontinence, scoliosis, and numbness. Because no two cases are the same, some people may need help walking with canes, walkers and some may need a wheelchair. It all depends on the person. 

One out of 1,000 to 2,000 babies, in the US, are diagnosed with Spina Bifida every year. 


Currently, there is no cure. Ongoing therapy, medical care and or surgical procedures may be necessary to prevent and manage complications.  


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