Spina bifida, which is a common birth defect, affects approximately 1,500 to 2,000 babies in the US each and 700 in the UK each year.
Babies born to spina bifida suffer from improperly formed spines or spinal cords.
These structures and the brain all develop from what is called a neural tube. It is a precursor to the entire central nervous systems as well as the protective tissue that surround them.
This tube typically forms and closes by the 28th weeks of pregnancy.
Babies with spina bifurca don’t close properly. Scientists aren’t sure why.
Instead, the babies are left with a gap between the vertebrae. This allows for the spinal cord to slip depending on the severity.
People with the mildest form spina bifida – the occulta kind – may not even be aware that they have it.
Their vertebrae are so close together that their spinal cord stays in place, and they are unlikely ever to experience motor or neurological symptoms.
Meningocele is the next severe form of the condition. In this case, the protective fluid and membranes around your spinal cord are pulled through a hole into a fluid-filled sack on the outside of your baby’s back.
There is no actual nerve tissue out of place. These complications could be life-threatening, but they are less likely to be.
However, in open spina bifida or myelomeningocele there are more or less openings along the spine.
At birth, both the membranes and spinal nerves as well as the tissues they are meant to protect are pulled out of the baby.
The severity of the openings can affect the symptoms.
Some children may develop little more than skin problems, while other with severe forms may be unable to walk or move properly, or develop infections like meningitis that can leave them with permanent brain damage.
The spinal cord can be properly developed if women are given enough folic acid during pregnancy.
These openings can be closed after birth. Recently, some surgeons have started to repair spina bifurca in the womb.