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Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is directly translated as “split spine” and it is a condition that is caused by a fault with the development of the spinal cord and it results in a gap in the spine that can severely impact a person’s health and well being. The condition most commonly develops 1 month after a fetus has started developing. 

Within the UK, about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies are affected by this condition, with the most serious condition being myelomeningocele. This condition is particularly dangerous because of the manner in which the spinal column is pushed open, leaving the baby vulnerable to potentially fatal infections.

The Symptoms of Spina Bifida

The main symptoms of this condition include those associated with cognition, mobility and the bladder and bowel. Cognitive symptoms include problems with reading, as well as with logical problem solving, mobility issues include muscle weakness and even paralysis and bladder and bowel-related symptoms refer to incontinence. The severity of the symptoms will depend greatly on the severity of the gap, as well as its location, among other factors.

The symptoms of this condition will usually depend entirely on the areas in which the openings towards the spine have occurred and whether a baby has developed an excess of fluid on the brain. It should be noted that openings that are located towards the top of spine tend to cause paralysis, as well as a wider range of learning difficulties when compared to those at the base, or towards the middle of the spine.

More than half of the children with this condition have normal intelligence levels, although a large group of these will struggle with short attention spans, reading difficulties, problems with making detailed plans and issues with coordination. Many people who have spina bifida lead completely normal lives, while others tend to struggle to live independently; in the end, each person’s situation is unique and should be treated as such.

Treating Spina Bifida

In order to treat this condition, medical professionals will often choose from a few different methods, depending on the severity of the condition and the associated symptoms. Surgery on the spine is one of the available options and can be done at birth, as well as later on in life. Different types of therapies are used to treat the emotional and learning issues that are sometimes associated with the condition and there are treatments that can assist with the problems associated with incontinence.

The Causes of Spina Bifida

While it should be noted that the precise causes of this condition are unknown, there are certain risk factors that medical professionals have identified that might contribute to the development of this condition. Low levels of folic acid in pregnancy have been known to contribute to this condition, although it is uncertain how this works. Due to the number of relatives that are born with Spina Bifida, it is also thought that someone with the condition will be more likely to have a baby with the same problem. Lastly, certain medications have been known to increase the risk of babies born with this condition, including Lamotrigine, Valproate and Carbamazepine.

Detecting Spina Bifida

This condition can be detected at about 12 weeks into the pregnancy, but it is more likely that a professional will pick up the anomaly at the scan that takes place during the 18 or 21-week checkup. In order to screen for the condition, an ultrasound scan is conducted on a pregnant woman to determine whether the fetus is physically sound. Further tests will usually be conducted to confirm the diagnoses.

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