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Spina bifida is a rare birth defect of the neural tube, the structure that develops inside the embryo and later becomes the brain, spinal cord, and corresponding tissues. Spina bifida causes the spine and spinal cord improperly form.

The two most common types of spina bifida are spina bifida occulta and myelomeningocele. Spina bifida occulta is a mild form of spina bifida. It causes a small gap between the vertebrae in the spine that usually goes unnoticed. Myelomeningocele is less common and more severe. In myelomeningocele, the spinal canal is open along a section of several vertebrae. This allows the spinal nerves and tissues to push through at birth and usually results in a sac forming on the baby’s back.


Since spina bifida occulta is usually benign and goes unnoticed, there are hardly any symptoms. Sometimes there may be a birthmark or small dimple in the newborn’s back but other than that, there are not many signs or symptoms. Myelomeningocele has several symptoms and can be quite dangerous.

The following are symptoms of myelomeningocele:

  • The spinal canal is open along several vertebrae in the lower or middle back
  • The spinal cord protrudes at birth and forms a sac
  • Spinal tissues and nerves become exposed, the skin may still cover the sac
  • Leg paralysis
  • Lack of sensation


There are no definitive causes of spina bifida, but doctors have identified several factors.

If the expectant mother has any of the following factors, there is an increase risk of spina bifida:

  • Being deficient in Folate (vitamin B-9)
  • Having a family history of neural tube defects
  • Taking anti-seizure medication
  • Having diabetes
  • Being obese before pregnancy
  • Increased body temperature during the early weeks of pregnancy

For a comprehensive evaluation from the experts at Brain2Spine Institute, call 727-828-8400.

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