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Spina bifida is a birth defect that affects one in every 1,000 babies. How do pregnant women find out if their baby has spina bifida, what kinds of symptoms do these children experience, and what can you do to help prevent spina bifida?

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a birth defect that falls into the category of so-called neural tube defects. The bones in the spine, called vertebrae, don't form around the baby's spinal cord the way they should. Spina bifida comes in mild and more severe forms, and can range from nothing much more than a cosmetic issue to totally debilitating the patient, and it can even be fatal in some cases. With very mild spina bifida, the birth defect isn't even visible to the naked eye, and the condition may not be diagnosed unless the child has an x-ray for whatever reason. This form of spina bifida is the most frequently occurring.

The more serious and rarer forms of the condition are called meningocele and myelomeningocele. With a meningocele, there will be fluid leaking out of the spine, and a bulge is often visible in the spinal area. A myelomeningocele is the most severe form of spina bifida. A kind of injury will be visible on the spine right at birth, and often even before, at an ultrasound during pregnancy. There will be nerves pushing out of the spine, and those nerves are often damaged. This in turn leads to disabilities patients suffering from this rare form of spina bifida may not be able to walk, may have other gross motor problems, and can have urinary and bowel incontinence. Depression, learning disabilities, and sexual problems are also among the possible consequences of the worst form of spina bifida.

Preventing spina bifida when you are trying to conceive

Spina bifida and other neural tube defects are unique, in that women who are trying to conceive can take active steps to prevent these birth defects from occurring. Spina bifida develops during the earliest stages of pregnancy, when the spinal cord normally closes. Every woman who wants to try to get pregnant should start taking 400 mg of folic acid a day several months before she actually stops using contraceptives. This reduces the risk of a baby with spina bifida enormously. Women who have a family history of neural tube defects, or who have already had a baby with a neural tube defect, can be considered at risk of having a child with spina bifida. These women should talk to their doctor about taking higher doses of folic acid while they are trying to get pregnant.

Spina bifida the diagnosis

Some women are more at risk for spina bifida than others. Risk factors include maternal obesity, insulin-dependent diabetes, prolonged fever during pregnancy (without fever reducers), using certain types of anti-seizure medications, and being white (black and hispanic women are less likely to have babies with spina bifida). The AFP (alpha-feto protein test) during pregnancy screens for neural tube defects and chromosomal abnormalities. The AFP test or triple test usually signal that there is a problem first. After this, further diagnostic testing will be carried out. Ultrasound during pregnancy and an amniocentesis are both useful in this. After birth, an x-ray of the baby and a physical examination are used to diagnose spina bifida, depending on its severity.

What happens after your baby is diagnosed with spina bifida

abies born with milder forms of spina bifida will not need much in terms of early treatment. In some cases, surgery becomes necessarily later on. Babies with severe forms of spina bifida will require surgery almost immediately after birth, and will normally be born by c-section to prevent further damage and risk of infection during labor and delivery. In some cases, it is now even possible to perform surgery to close the spine while the baby is still in the uterus. A small opening is made in the uterus, and the defect is corrected through this. There is a lot of diversity among children with spina bifida, and the day-to-day care they receive will be based on their needs. Many, but not all, will need braces to walk. Some will have learning disabilities, while others do well in school. Some children with spina bifida will need a wheelchair, and many need a shunt to correct fluid on the brain (hydrocephalus).

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