Spina Bifida is a birth defect where there is incomplete closing of the backbone & membranes around the spinal cord. There are three main types to this condition – Spina Bifida Occulta, Meningocele, & Myelomeningocele. Most common location for this defect is the lower back but it also rarely occurs in the middle back or neck regions. Occulta has none or only mild signs. Signs of occulta may include a hairy patch, dimple, dark spot, or swelling on the back at the site of the gap in the spine. Meningocele typically causes mild problems with a sac of fluid present at the gap in the spine. Myelomeningocele, also known as open spina bifida, is the most severe form. Problems include poor ability to walk, problems with bladder or bowel control
What are Spina Bifida Symptoms?
Only the more severe types of spina bifida show obvious symptoms. These symptoms are seen in slower development of spine & brain.
Specific Spina Bifida Symptoms include –
- Damaged nerves in the spinal cord which often affect the limbs of the patient. It may be numbness in the legs or failure to move them.
- Signs of scoliosis, or a bend in the spinal column of the baby.
- Loss of control over passing urine & bowel movement.
- Hydrocephalus or excessive fluid in the brain.
- Affected vision & slower learning power.
Mother’s health & lack of care during early pregnancy increases the risk of spina bifida in the unborn child. Usually, obesity & pregnancy of a diabetic woman heighten chances of spina bifida in babies.
High-Risk Groups of Spina Bifida include –
- Previous child with a neural tube defect (NTD)
- Family history of NTDs on one or both sides
- Close relative with NTD
- Close relative with a child with NTD.
Children of women taking some medications such as valproic acid also have an increased risk of spina bifida.
Types of Spina Bifida
Spina bifida is categorized as mild, severe & most severe.
Mild Spina Bifida
- Mild type of spina bifida is more common.
- It does not show any obvious symptoms.
- The defect is very minor, usually seen as a hairy patch, mark on the skin or a small dimple on the baby’s back.
Severe Spina Bifida
- Also known as meningocele.
- In this type the spinal fluid leaks out of the spinal cord & gets trapped under skin.
- Most likely seen as a small bulge on the back near spinal column.
Most Severe Spina Bifida
- Also called as myelomeningocele. This type is usually referred to as spina bifida in common terms.
- In this condition the spinal nerves escape from the spinal cord & are often damaged.
- Usually seen as a bulge on the skin of the baby’s back.
- Rare cases often have ruptured skin where the nerves had put pressure.
Treatments for Spina Bifida
Doctors suggest a blood test & ultrasound of the fetus to check for any abnormal formations. If these tests are positive then amniocentesis test is required to diagnose the type of defect. If the baby has been born then X-ray, MRI & CT scan can help diagnose the type of spina bifida. Treatment for spina bifida depends on the severity of the condition. Most people with spina bifida occulta require no treatment at all. Children with meningocele typically require surgical removal of the cyst & survive with little, if any, disability. Children with myelomeningocele, however, require complex lifelong treatment & attention. Almost all of them survive with appropriate treatment starting soon after birth. Their quality of life however depends on the speed & efficiency of treatment provided.
Special Care for Spina Bifida Patients
Children born with myelomeningocele require special care. They should be immediately transferred to a center where newborn surgery can be performed. Treatment with antibiotics is started as soon as myelomeningocele is recognized; this prevents infection of the spinal cord & which can often be fatal. The operation involves closing the opening in the spinal cord & covering the cord with muscles & skin taken from either side of the back. Most common complications in such cases are tethered spinal cord & hydrocephalus, which can have very severe consequences. Every person with severe spina bifida requires intensive & complex care by well trained & coordinated team of medical professionals.
In cases where excess of fluid buildup is detected near the brain corrective surgery is urgently recommended. This surgery is to implant a sterile tube from the brain to the belly so as to help drain excessive fluid. This surgery further lessens the risk of brain & spinal damage in babies.
Spina Bifida Treatment in India
As most patients affected with spina bifida are children, treatment needs to be handled by a team of experienced & highly skilled physicians & surgeons. India is best suited for patients looking for Spina Bifida treatments as there are numerous hospitals which undertake this surgery. Importantly these hospitals are mostly located in metropolitan cities in India that provide easy access & connectivity to international destinations across the world. Cities like Mumbai, Goa, Kerala, Nagpur, Delhi, Bangalore, & Chennai boast of the most reputed & acclaimed hospitals in India. Considering the costs, they are far more cost effective & affordable when compared to similar surgery prices in other hospitals around the world.