What is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is a condition that affects the spine and is usually apparent at birth. Spina bifida can happen anywhere along the spine if the neural tube does not close all the way. When the neural tube doesn’t close all the way, the backbone that protects the spinal cord doesn’t form and close as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves. Often, the spine is exposed in the womb and at birth, requiring immediate surgery. Because of nerve damage, depending on severity, spina bifida can result in lower limb paralysis. Additionally, spina bifida might cause physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe. The overall severity of spina bifida depends on the size and location of the opening in the spine, and whether part of the spinal cord and nerves are affected.

Types of Spina Bifida

There are three common types of spina bifida:

  • Myelomeningocele – The most serious type of spina bifida, where part of the spinal cord and nerves are exposed and damaged, causing moderate to severe disabilities, such as paralysis.
  • Meningocele – A sac of fluid comes through an opening in the baby’s back, but the spinal cord is not in this sac. There is usually little or no nerve damage, causing minor disabilities.
  • Spina Bifida Occulta – The mildest type of spina bifida, sometimes called “hidden” spina bifida. With it, there is a small gap in the spine, but no opening or sac on the back. The spinal cord and the nerves usually are normal. This type of spina bifida usually does not cause any disabilities.


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How is Spina Bifida Diagnosed?

Spina bifida can be diagnosed during pregnancy or after the baby is born. Spina bifida occulta might not be diagnosed until late childhood or adulthood, or might never be diagnosed. During pregnancy there are screening tests (prenatal tests) to check for spina bifida and other birth defects. Those with questions or concerns about this prenatal testing should talk to their doctor. In some cases, spina bifida might not be diagnosed until after the baby is born. Sometimes there is a hairy patch of skin or a dimple on the baby’s back that is first seen after the baby is born. A doctor can use an image scan, such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT, to get a clearer view of the baby’s spine and the bones in the back. Sometimes spina bifida is not diagnosed until after the baby is born because the mother did not receive prenatal care or an ultrasound did not show clear pictures of the affected part of the spine.

What Causes Spina Bifida?

The causes of spina bifida are unknown and the role that genetics and the environment play in causing spina bifida needs to be studied further.

Treatments for Spina Bifida

No two cases of spina bifida are exactly alike. Health issues and treatments for spina bifida differ among people, with some having more issues than others. Those born with “open” spina bifida usually have more health issues and need more types of treatments. Sometimes when a baby has open spina bifida, doctors will perform surgery to close the spine before the baby is born. Many people with open spina bifida have tethered spinal cords. Normally, the bottom of the spinal cord floats around freely in the spinal canal. A tethered spinal cord is attached to the spinal canal. When this happens, the spinal cord stretches as a person grows, which can permanently damage the spinal nerves. The person might have back pain, scoliosis (crooked spine), leg and foot weakness, changes in bladder or bowel control, and other problems. A tethered spinal cord can be treated with surgery.

Prognosis for Spina Bifida

Vast progress in medical and surgical interventions over the past 40 years allow children born today with spina bifida to lead active and productive lives. According to the Spina Bifida Association, approximately 90 percent of infants affected with the defect live well into adulthood. In addition, about 80 percent have typical intelligence. Twenty-year follow-up studies of children with spina bifida indicate they go to college at the same rates as the general population, and most are actively employed. As advancements in medical care for these children continue to expand, the outlook continues to get better.

Mobility for Those with Spina Bifida

Some with spina bifida require the use of a specialized power wheelchair. Quantum Rehab®, the global leader in individualized power chairs, puts an emphasis on mobility technologies specific toward the needs of those with spina bifida.

Quantum Power Chairs incorporate power-adjustable seating for user repositioning and comfort; specialty drive controls, including those requiring minimal hand strength; and, a highly-adaptable design to meet an individual’s current and future needs.

Quantum Power Chairs feature the latest advanced technologies to increase the independence of those living with spina bifida. iLevel® seat elevation technology allows a user to operate the power chair at seated or standing height. Bluetooth® is also integrated into Quantum’s Q-Logic 3 electronics, so those with spina bifida can operate much of their environment with the power chair drive control, itself.

For those with spina bifida, Quantum Power Chairs are designed to provide optimal medical comfort and maximum independence. Please click here for more information on Quantum Power Chair solutions for those living with spina bifida.

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