Spina Bifida Symptoms & Causes

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Contact the Spina Bifida and Spinal Cord Conditions Center

  • 1-617-355-8532

What Causes Spina Bifida?

The cause of spina bifida remains unknown. It is associated with genetic, nutritional and environmental factors. Research studies indicate that a key factor may be a lack of folic acid—a common B vitamin—in a pregnant woman’s diet. This is one reason why prenatal vitamins, which typically contain folic acid, are recommended to women during pregnancy.

More than 90 percent of cases occur without a prior family history. However, if one parent has spina bifida, there’s a 1 in 25 (4 percent) chance of passing spina bifida to your baby. If you already have a child with spina bifida, there’s a 1 in 25 (4 percent) chance of having another baby with the condition.

Spina Bifida Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of spina bifida vary widely, depending on the type and its severity. In cases of severe spina bifida (myelomeningocele) symptoms and associated health problems typically include:

Hydrocephalus: Spinal fluid build up in and around the brain
Impaired cognitive development: Including learning disabilities
Chiari II malformation: Vocal cord weakness, difficulty swallowing, leg weakness and spinal deformities caused by portions of the brain that are pushed downward into the upper part of the spine.
Paralysis: Loss of function of the lower spine, or loss of movement in the legs and feet
Orthopedic (bone) problems: Over time, children may develop scoliosis, kyphosis, hip dislocation, joint deformities, clubfoot or weak bones.
Nervous system problems: Including weakness in the legs or feet, back pain, leg pain
Bladder/bowel problems: Including impaired control
Tethered cord: Spinal abnormalities caused when a child’s spinal cord is abnormally attached to the tissues around the spine.
Urinary tract infections and/or kidney damage

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