Symptoms Of Spina Bifida

October 3, 2023

Spina bifida is a neural tube defect babies are born with. It occurs when the spine and spinal cord fail to develop properly in the womb, causing a gap to form in the spine. The neural tube begins forming early on in a mother's pregnancy, and it closes one month after conception. In fetuses with spina bifida, however, part of the neural tube doesn't close correctly, which leads to a baby born with a defective spinal cord. The vertebrae of the spine may form at odd angles, which can cause more problems further in life. At present, it's not known what exactly causes spina bifida, though a lack of folic acid in early pregnancy is thought to play a role. In most cases, surgery can be used to correct the opening in the spine.


Incontinence is normal and can affect individuals at any point in their lives. However, when it becomes a regular pattern, it should be taken as a sign of concern. There are two types of incontinence: bowel and urinal. Bowel occurs when a person has trouble controlling their bowel movement. They may experience sudden and unexpected needs to use the toilet or leak or soil themselves. Constipation, diarrhea, excessive gas, and bloating may also present themselves. Urinal incontinence occurs when urine is passed unintentionally. This can also present itself through leaking, sudden urges to go to the toilet, and feeling like you can't empty your bladder.

Buildup Of Cerebrospinal Fluid

The buildup of cerebrospinal fluid, medically known as hydrocephalus, is one of the more dangerous complications associated with spina bifida. This can cause irreversible damage to the brain and can even be fatal if left untreated. When the brain starts to fall privy to the effects of the buildup, many symptoms may begin to present themselves. The patient may experience blurred vision, headache, difficulty balancing or walk, and feelings of nausea and illness. Different types of hydrocephalus will cause specific problems, and only a brain scan, such as an MRI or CT, will be able to diagnose the specific type.

Leg Paralysis Or Weakness

Paralysis results in the loss of mobility. Specifically, a patient will not be able to move some or all of the body at all. It can result from a variety of causes and, though it is sometimes only temporary, serious cases can be permanent. Leg paralysis or weakness is a fairly common occurrence in patients diagnosed with spina bifida. This is because the buildup of fluid can cause such extreme pressure that the nerves controlling movement are damaged. The entire nervous system can also suffer, beginning with weakness and gradually progressing into paralysis. If you notice weakness that cannot be attributed to a normal event, seek medical attention immediately.

Coordination Problems

The buildup of fluid that occurs in spina bifida can also cause both long and short-term coordination problems. When the fluid puts too much pressure on the cerebellum, the language processing and physical coordination center of the brain, these functions and processes suffer. Visual coordination is also a side effect that can occur because of the fluid buildup in the brain, making seemingly easy and mundane tasks, like tying one's shoes, difficult to impossible. When the lower limbs become weakened enough, the patient may also be required to wear leg braces to prevent the misshaping of bones and dislocating of joints.

Abnormal Brain Development

Unsurprisingly, a mass buildup of fluid in the head can also cause abnormal brain development. In addition to pressure on the cerebellum causing problems with physical and visual coordination, a poorly developed cortex can also cause cognitive issues. Thinking, judgment, awareness, and learning, which are controlled by the frontal cortex, can all be negatively impacted by problems with the neural tube. Although individuals with spina bifida have normal intelligence levels, learning difficulties can arise. The added pressure on the brain in the early years can cause lasting effects on various parts of the brain, making reading, understanding spoken language, paying attention, solving problems, and grasping abstract concepts quite challenging.

A Lack Of Skin Sensation

If an individual is dealing with paralysis or a lack of sensation in the legs due to the condition, quite obviously they will lack skin sensation in this area of their body. As a result, skin in the affected areas, specifically the lower body, can become easily damaged as they might injure or burn themselves without realizing it. Children with spina bifida also have a higher risk of developing a latex allergy, which may cause itchy skin and a rash to develop, as well as sneezing, watery eyes, and a runny nose due to the allergy, which can range from mild to severe.

Symptoms Of Myelomeningocele

Myelomeningocele is the most severe form of spina bifida, and although it shares many of the same symptoms as the other types, it also has its own symptoms to be aware of. Some of the specific symptoms of this type include cognitive and learning difficulties, especially if hydrocephalus is present, Type II Arnold-Chiari malformation, coordination, paralysis, bowel and urinary incontinence, meningitis, and other problems.

In this severe state, an individual may experience awareness, thinking, judging, knowing, and learning difficulties, as issues with the neural tube can have a negative impact on the brain’s development. Specifically, if the brain’s cortex and frontal lobe do not develop properly, cognitive and learning difficulties can quickly arise. Patients can also experience Type II Arnold-Chiari malformation, which is an abnormal brain development involving the cerebellum, which can cause hydrocephalus, and affects language processing and physical coordination. Other issues a patient may experience are skin and gastrointestinal problems, latex allergies, and depression.

Other Symptoms Of The Different Types

Besides the most severe type, myelomeningocele, spina bifida presents itself in two additional forms: occulta and meningocele. Spina bifida occulta means 'hidden' as this is the mildest form of this condition, and many individuals with this form are not even aware they have it as it is generally asymptomatic. The most obvious sign of this type is a tuft of hair or a birthmark at the site of the defect.

Meningocele spina bifida (along with myelomeningocele) is when a visible sac is poking through the infant’s back, and there may be a thin layer of skin covering this sac. Specifically, with meningocele, the membranes around the spinal cord protrude out through an opening in the vertebrae, forming a fluid-filled sac, and is quite visible at birth.

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