Spina Bifida | Symptoms and Causes

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Contact the Spina Bifida and Spinal Cord Conditions Center

  • 1-617-355-8532

What are the symptoms of spina bifida?

The symptoms of spina bifida vary widely depending on the type of spina bifida a child has.

Many children with spina bifida don’t have any symptoms or only have mild symptoms. These may include:

  • a small clump of hair or a dimple or birthmark on the spine
  • chronic constipation with no other cause
  • chronic urinary or bowel incontinence with no other cause
  • chronic urinary tract infections
  • leg or back pain
  • limping
  • toe walking
  • scoliosis

Other children have symptoms that are noticeable at birth, such as an opening in the spine or a sac that protrudes from the spine.

What are the causes of 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 a daily multi-vitamin that contains folic acid is recommended for all women of child-bearing age.

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. If a previous child or family member has a neural tube defect, speak with your doctor about taking a daily folic acid supplement.

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- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
For Patients: 617-355-6000
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