Spina bifida — overview and treatment options

Spina bifida is a birth defect, undetectable in most babies unless the condition is very severe. Spina bifida describes the event when the vertebrae of the spine do not fully form around the baby’s spinal cord. While the mild, most common instances of this condition are undetectable, the more advanced cases of spina bifida can be very painful due to damaged nerves and spinal protrusion.

Treatment options for this condition vary according to severity of the spinal abnormality, though most severe cases require surgical treatment to close the vertebrae around the spinal cord. Expectant mothers can undergo a blood test or sonogram to check the baby for spina bifida or any other birth defects. Severe cases of spina bifida may lead to other spine conditions later in life.

Types of spina bifida conditions

There are three types of spina bifida conditions, progressing from mild to very severe and rare. The types of spina bifida are as follows:

  • Mild spina bifida — This is the most common type of spina bifida. It does not typically show any symptoms, but may result in a birthmark or dimple on the back. Because there are no symptoms associated with mild spina bifida, this condition usually goes unnoticed.
  • Meningocele — This is a moderately rated form of spina bifida. In this instance, the spinal cord is just slightly not sealed by the vertebra, causing spinal fluid to leak out of the spine and compress the skin. This may cause a bump or pocket of fluid showing against the skin. Typically, the pocket of fluid on the skin is the only indication of the spine condition.
  • Myelomeningocele — This is the rarest, most severe version of spina bifida. In this case, the spine never closed around the spinal cord, causing the spinal nerves to move out of the spinal cord and result in nerve damage and pain. For the worst cases of spina bifida, the baby’s skin is open from the spinal abnormality and the spine and nerve roots are exposed.

Most children with spina bifida never show any symptoms or suffer from the spine condition. In fact, many people never know that they have spina bifida unless they undergo an MRI test for another spine condition.

Treatment options available for spina bifida

Most babies do not need any treatment for spina bifida because the spine condition is so mild. However, for the severe cases of spina bifida, the two most common forms of treatment are physical therapy and surgery. Consult your physician to find the best treatment option for your child and ask about referrals to local pediatric specialists that can help your child treat the spina bifida.