Children's Health℠, rehabilitation physicians and therapists improve the lives of children with spina bifida every day. We work with Children’s Health urologists, neurosurgeons and other specialists to address all aspects of your child’s care. We help with medication management and help your child access all the therapy and equipment they need to move through the world as seamlessly as possible.
We’re one of very few hospitals in the country that performs surgery on babies in the womb to treat more severe types of spina bifida as early as possible. We understand that no two children are alike. We’ll work with your family to create a care plan tailored to your child’s needs.
We care for children from birth throughout childhood and adolescence, and our Spina Bifida Adult Transitions Clinic provides care for people ages 18 to 26. The clinic’s urologist, rehabilitation specialist, social worker and nurse help your child transition from pediatric to adult care.
Pediatric spina bifida is a congenital (present at birth) condition in which a child’s spinal column and spinal cord do not develop properly. In spina bifida, the spine bones do not completely close, leaving an opening that exposes the spinal cord, nerves, tissue and spinal fluid. Spina bifida can affect your child’s ability to move and function.
Scientific advances over the past several decades have improved care of spina bifida, and many of the more severe side effects of spina bifida are now rare. Although the severity of spina bifida varies from child to child, almost all children with this condition live full, fruitful lives.
Spina bifida can happen anywhere on the spine, but it is most common in the lower back. The lower it happens on the spine, the less severe a child’s symptoms will be.
The three most common types of spina bifida are:
Spina bifida occulta is the mildest and most common type of spina bifida. Many children with this condition never know that they have spina bifida. The main sign of spina bifida occulta is a dimple, patch of hair or red mark on their lower back over the spine.
Spina bifida occulta does not usually cause any disabilities. However, some children with this type of spina bifida may also have a condition called tethered cord. In this condition, the spinal cord does not move easily inside the spinal canal. Without treatment, a tethered cord can cause pain, trouble walking and loss of bladder control, which can occur at any time during your child’s growth. Tethered cord may require surgery to repair if it causes symptoms.
Meningocele is a rare, more severe type of spina bifida. In meningocele, the spinal fluid leaks out through the gap in your child’s spine. Sometimes, this leak can cause a small sac to emerge. This sac can cause a bulge in your child’s skin, although their nerves and spinal cord are in the right place in the spinal canal.
Myelomeningocele is the most severe type of spina bifida and the best-known type A sac containing part of your child’s spinal cord, its covering and spinal fluid pushes through the gap in your child’s spine, creating a bulge in the skin. Children with myelomeningocele often experience loss of feeling and movement in their legs or feet, and bladder and bowel dysfunction.
Spina bifida develops during the third and fourth week of pregnancy. Doctors can detect spina bifida during the second trimester of pregnancy through:
After a child is born, a doctor can diagnose spina bifida using imaging, such as:
There is no single cause for spina bifida. Certain factors can increase the risk of having a baby with spina bifida, including:
At Children’s Health, our doctors screen every pregnant person for spina bifida in their baby during the second trimester.
Doctors recommend that pregnant people take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, which is the amount found in prenatal vitamins. Certain foods, such as dark green vegetables, egg yolks and certain fruits, also provide the recommended daily amount. Although getting 400 micrograms of folic acid every day doesn’t guarantee that your baby will not have spina bifida, it can drastically reduce the risk.
Children who have spina bifida occulta may never need treatment unless they experience health complications from their condition. Children with more severe forms of spina bifida may need:
Our experts collaborate with specialists across Children’s Health to coordinate your child’s care for every symptom of spina bifida. Together, we can get your child on a path to a functional, comfortable life.
Your rehabilitation specialist can help answer this question, and it depends on your child’s condition. Some children with mild spina bifida never experience symptoms. Others have limited mobility or function. Some children may be unable to move certain parts of their body or walk without special equipment or bracing. The good news is that most children treated today for spina bifida live full, productive lives.
Your child may have pain for various reasons. With expertise and compassion, our team will evaluate your child’s pain levels and help your child manage pain, mobility, function and medications. We will work with you to make your child as comfortable as possible throughout their lives.