spina; bifida; spine; disability;
What is Spina Bifida?
Spina bifida (say spy-na-bif-id-a) means split spine.
The spine doesn't just help you to stand up. The spine also contains the spinal cord which is a bundle of nerves that carry messages to and from the brain to the body.
If some of the bones in the spine don't grow together properly in the very early weeks of a pregnancy there is a split in the spine and the cord can bulge out and some of the nerves become damaged.
Then the messages to and from the brain cannot get through. If messages can't get through some of the muscles won't be able to work and there will be no feeling in the part of the body that isn't getting messages.
What causes Spina Bifida
What causes Spina Bifida is not known for certain, but it is thought to be partly genetic. Sometimes someone else in the family may also have spina bifida, but usually no-one has had it.
The changes in the genes seem to happen 'by chance' when the mother's genes and the father's genes got together at the very beginning of a pregnancy. Even then, not all babies who have the gene change will develop spina bifida.
If a mother has extra folic acid in her diet - or is getting some by taking tablets – then, even if the baby has that gene change, it is not so likely to develop spina bifida.
Effects of Spina Bifida
The effects depend on how much damage is done to the nerves.
Spina Bifida - Occulta (say ok-ul-ta) is when there is a tiny gap in the spine and the spinal cord has not been damaged. This gap in the bone is covered by skin and muscles so it may not be seen. There may never be any problems with the spine and the person may never know.
Meningocele (say men-in-goh-seel) is when there is a bigger gap in the spine and the meninges (the covering of the spinal nerves) bulges out.
The nerves are still inside the spine and are not damaged. The person can have an operation to make sure they stay safe. There are not usually any problems after that.
Myelo meningocele (say my-el-oh-men-in-goh-seel) is when the spinal cord and the meninges are sticking out through the gap in the spine. They are covered by a thin layer of skin.