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Overview

Spina Bifida Overview

Spina bifida (“cleft spine”) is a birth defect affecting the spinal column. Spina bifida progresses from a cleft, or splitlike opening, in the back part of the backbones (the spinal vertebrae). In more severe cases, it involves the spinal cord. Spina bifida is the most common of a group of birth defects known as neural tube defects, which affect the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Spina bifida begins in the womb, when the tissues that fold to form the neural tube do not close or do not stay closed completely. This causes an opening in the vertebrae, which surround and protect the spinal cord. This occurs just a few weeks (21 to 28 days) after conception—usually before the woman knows that she is pregnant.

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Spina bifida is one of the most common severe birth defects, historically occurring in 1 live birth per 1000 in the United States. The rates of spina bifida are higher in Hispanics and whites of European descent than in Ashkenazi Jews, Asians, and African Americans.

Rates are also higher among mothers with certain health problems, such as diabetes or seizure disorders (taking certain anticonvulsants), and significantly higher among couples in which at least one has spina bifida, and among couples who have already had a child with spina bifida.


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The outlook for spina bifida has improved remarkably in the last decade. Not only have advanced surgical techniques improved quality of life for people born with spina bifida, but evolving approaches to early diagnosis have even opened the possibility of corrective surgery while still in the womb.

Furthermore, studies completed in the 1990s showed that as many as 70% of cases of neural tube defects could be prevented by adequate intake of folic acid immediately before and in early pregnancy. A rigorous program of public education and fortification of popular foods with folic acid in the United States has decreased the rate of neural tube defects by about 20% in just a few years.
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The vertebrae of the spine is an important part of protecting the sensitive nerves of your spinal cord. However, when the bones do not fully form around the nerves, it can result in trouble with walking and even daily activities such as going to the bathroom. This condition is called spina bifida. Although rare-it only occurs in about 7 out of every 10,000 live births-spina bifida is the most common birth defect that disables a person for life.

While doctors and researchers are not yet completely sure why spina bifida hits, they think that it is somehow tied to genetics and the environment. This is because a woman who has one child with the condition is more likely to give birth to a second child with the same problem. Additionally, risk factors like obesity and diabetes also seem to increase a mother's chances of giving birth to a baby with this disease.
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