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Spina Bifida (cont.)

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Symptoms

There are no symptoms that indicate a pregnant woman has a fetus with spina bifida.

The appearance and symptoms of a child who is born with spina bifida depend on how severe the condition is.

  • If the spina bifida is mild, there may be no physical sign of the condition. In some cases a birthmark, dimple, or hairy patch may form over the defect. There are rarely any other signs.
  • In severe cases, there usually is a fluid-filled swelling on the baby's spine. In the most severe cases (myelomeningoceleClick here to see an illustration.), tissues and nerves from the spinal cord are exposed on the child's back.

Children with severe spina bifida often have parts of the brain and upper spinal cord that are not formed normally. It is also common for these children to have fluid on the brain (hydrocephalus). Related problems can cause:

  • Trouble swallowing, which can lead to choking.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Breath-holding and problems breathing during sleep.
  • Learning disability.
  • Seizure disorders.
  • Strabismus (sometimes called crossed-eyes), a vision problem in which the eyes do not both look in the same direction at the same time.

If hydrocephalus is not treated, it can cause severe intellectual disability or death.

The most severe form of spina bifida (myelomeningocele) almost always affects the function of the limbs and organs in the lower part of the body. The child's ability to walk depends on what part of the spine is affected and how severe the spina bifida is. The lower (lumbar) spine is affected in most cases. The higher on the spine the defect occurs, the more severe and widespread are the problems. See a picture of the spineClick here to see an illustration..

  • If the defect is in the lower spine, the child usually is able to walk but may require ankle-foot braces and surgery to correct foot deformities.
  • If the defect is in the middle of the spine, the child will need leg braces or crutches to walk and will need a variety of corrective surgeries. A wheelchair may be needed when long periods of mobility are required (for example, when shopping). Some people may use a wheelchair at all times.
  • In rare cases when the defect is higher in the spine, it can also affect function in the arms and upper body.

Spinal cord damage caused by severe spina bifida may cause problems such as:

  • Inability to control urine or bowel movements (incontinence).
  • Constipation.
  • Little or no feeling in the legs and feet.
  • Inability to move or feel (paralysis) the legs and, less often, the arms.

Most children who have severe spina bifida have curvature of the spine—scoliosis, kyphosis (hunchback), or both. It can be present at birth or develop later in life.

Many children who have severe spina bifida develop an allergy to latex, a natural rubber product that is used to make objects such as toys and health care supplies. Doctors do not know why many children with spina bifida develop this allergy. Take extra care to keep your child who has spina bifida away from products that contain latex.

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eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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