Spina Bifida Symptoms
The symptoms of spina bifida vary from person to person, depending on the
type. Often, individuals with occulta have no outward signs of the disorder. Closed neural
tube defects are often recognized early in life due to an abnormal tuft or clump of hair
or a small dimple or birthmark on the skin at the site of the spinal malformation.
Meningocele and myelomeningocele generally involve a fluid-filled sacvisible on the
backprotruding from the spinal cord. In meningocele, the sac may be covered by a
thin layer of skin, whereas in most cases of myelomeningocele, there is no layer of skin
covering the sac and a section of spinal cord tissue usually is exposed.
What are the complications of spina bifida?
Complications of spina bifida can range from minor physical problems to
severe physical and mental disabilities. It is important to note, however, that most
people with spina bifida are of normal intelligence. Severity is determined by the size
and location of the malformation, whether or not skin covers it, whether or not spinal
nerves protrude from it, and which spinal nerves are involved. Generally all nerves
located below the malformation are affected. Therefore, the higher the malformation occurs
on the back, the greater the amount of nerve damage and loss of muscle function and
In addition to loss of sensation and paralysis, another neurological complication
associated with spina bifida is Chiari II malformationa rare condition (but common
in children with myelomeningocele) in which the brainstem and the cerebellum, or rear
portion of the brain, protrude downward into the spinal canal or neck area. This condition
can lead to compression of the spinal cord and cause a variety of symptoms including
difficulties with feeding, swallowing, and breathing; choking; and arm stiffness.
Chiari II malformation may also result in a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid, causing a
condition called hydrocephalus, which is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the
brain. Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The
buildup of fluid puts damaging pressure on the brain. Hydrocephalus is commonly treated by
surgically implanting a shunta hollow tubein the brain to drain the excess
fluid into the abdomen.
Some newborns with myelomeningocele may develop meningitis, an infection in the meninges.
Meningitis may cause brain injury and can be life-threatening.
Children with both myelomeningocele and hydrocephalus may have learning disabilities,
including difficulty paying attention, problems with language and reading comprehension,
and trouble learning math.
Additional problems such as latex allergies, skin problems, gastrointestinal conditions,
and depression may occur as children with spina bifida get older.