Spina Bifida is a term used for a variety of conditions in which there is a defect of closure in the bony part of the spinal cord. In fetal growth, the two halves of the spinal cord develop and fuse in the midline.
This closure begins at the middle and proceeds toward the head and feet, like a double zipper, until the tube is open at either end. Spina Bifida occurs when the spinal tube either fails to close or is blown open by pressure. Spina Bifida may exhibit a protrusion of the nerve fibers and other contents into a sack outside the spine. The nerves to the lower limbs and internal organs, particularly the bladder and kidneys, below the defect may be cut off, causing paralysis and lack of function. Most people with Spina Bifida use colostomys and ileostomys. Various abnormalities of the skeletal system, such as clubfoot, dislocated hips, and un-segmented vertebrae, as well as anomalies of the heart, bowel, or brain, may also be present. Individuals with Spina Bifida also have latex allergies, so it is important that latex products (such as protective gloves) are not used.
Sometimes during the birth process, excess fluid is not adequately absorbed in the brain or scar tissue does not allow the fluid to circulate evenly, and hydrocephalus results. The head becomes enlarged as a result of the fluid build up. This excess fluid puts too much pressure on brain cells and they are destroyed. Hydrocephalus is a frequent complication of Spina Bifida and can cause mental retardation. Fortunately, modern surgical methods have been developed, and tubes (shunts) with special valves can be inserted to drain off excess fluid. Once the shunts are inserted, hydrocephalus can be prevented and brain damage minimized.
Children with Spina Bifida have high mortality rates, although improvements in health care have lowered the death rate considerably. Orthopedic care usually begins at birth, and although normal function of lower limbs is not always possible, an individual is often able to get around with crutches and braces.