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Spina Bifida

What is it?

Spina bifida is a birth defect where the nerves of the spinal cord are exposed and damaged. Also, the vertebrae by the protruding nerves do not fully form. Myelomeningocele is the most significant form of spina bifida and the kind that most often leads to disabilities. Taking adequate amounts of folic acid during pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of spina bifida. For more information visit the Spina Bifida Association Web site.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms vary from child to child depending on the type of spina bifida. In mild forms of the condition, there may not be outward signs. Sometimes a child has an abnormal clump of hair, dimple, or birthmark on the skin covering the spine.

In more severe forms of spina bifida, a fluid-filled sac may be visible on the back, protruding from the spinal cord. Sometimes the sac is covered by a thin layer of skin.

Children with spina bifida can have bladder control problems and difficulty moving and controlling their legs. The higher the lesion is on the spinal cord, the more significant the problems with motor control.

How is it treated?

The protruding, fluid-filled sac on the back can be treated with surgery. This may protect the spine from infection and further damage. Also, surgery can treat problems related to spina bifida, such as tethered cord syndrome. But there is no cure for spina bifida and the damage that has already occurred to the spine.

About surgery for spina bifida at Children’s

The neurosurgery team at Children’s provides next-generation care to neonatal infants, newborns, children, and adolescents from throughout the Upper Midwest. The team provides some of the most cutting-edge treatments available, including newborn surgery, surgery utilizing intra-operative MRI, and grid placement surgery for epilepsy. Neurosurgery is performed at Children’s - Minneapolis and Children’s - St. Paul.

Medical care for children with spina bifida includes rehabilitation services, genetic consultations, and other services geared toward treating your child’s unique needs.

If you are a family member looking for a Children’s specialist in neurosurgery, visit Find a Doctor.

If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).

Return to Children’s neurosurgery home page.