What Is Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida (Open Defect) 3D image

Spina Bifida is a condition that affects the spine and is usually apparent at birth. It can happen anywhere along the spine if the neural tube does not close. When the neural tube doesn’t close, the backbone that protects the spinal cord doesn’t form and close as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves. Often, the spine is exposed in the womb and at birth, requiring immediate surgery. Because of nerve damage, depending on severity, Spina Bifida can result in lower-limb paralysis. Additionally, the condition might cause physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe. The overall severity of the condition depends on the size and location of the opening in the spine and whether part of the spinal cord and nerves are affected.

Types of Spina Bifida

There are three common types of Spina Bifida:

  • Myelomeningocele: The most serious type of Spina Bifida, where part of the spinal cord and nerves are exposed and damaged, causing moderate to severe disabilities, such as paralysis.
  • Meningocele: A sac of fluid comes through an opening in the baby’s back, but the spinal cord is not in this sac. There is usually little or no nerve damage, causing minor disabilities.
  • Spina Bifida Occulta: The mildest type of condition, sometimes called “hidden” Spina Bifida. With it, there is a small gap in the spine but no opening or sac on the back. The spinal cord and the nerves usually are normal. This type usually does not cause any disabilities.

Types of Spina Bifida

How is Spina Bifida diagnosed?

Spina Bifida can be diagnosed through various methods during pregnancy or after birth. Here are the main approaches for diagnosis:

  1. Prenatal screening: During pregnancy, certain screening tests can help identify the possibility of Spina Bifida. These include:
    • Maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) test: This blood test measures the levels of alpha-fetoprotein, a substance produced by the baby’s liver, in the mother’s blood. Abnormally high levels of alpha-fetoprotein can indicate a neural tube defect, including Spina Bifida.
    • Ultrasound: An ultrasound examination can visualize the developing fetus and detect physical abnormalities, including Spina Bifida. It can identify the presence of a spinal defect or other signs that may indicate the condition.
    • Amniocentesis: In some cases, amniocentesis may be performed to analyze the amniotic fluid for markers of Spina Bifida. This procedure involves collecting a small sample of amniotic fluid using a needle and examining it for elevated levels of alpha-fetoprotein or other indicators.
  2. Diagnostic procedures: If screening tests suggest the possibility of Spina Bifida, further diagnostic procedures may be recommended for a definitive diagnosis. These include:
    • Fetal MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can provide detailed images of the fetus and can help visualize the spine and spinal cord more clearly, aiding in the diagnosis.
    • Fetal ultrasound with detailed evaluation: A specialized ultrasound examination can be performed by an experienced sonographer or fetal medicine specialist to assess the spinal cord, spine, and other structures in detail for any abnormalities associated with Spina Bifida.
  3. Postnatal diagnosis: Spina Bifida can also be diagnosed after birth through a physical examination and medical evaluation. The characteristic physical signs, such as a visible sac or abnormal skin features over the spinal area, can indicate the presence of the condition.

It’s important to note that while these diagnostic methods can indicate the likelihood of Spina Bifida, they may not provide a complete picture of the severity or specific functional outcomes.

Spina Bifida (Open Defect) Diagram

What causes Spina Bifida?

The causes of Spina Bifida are unknown, and the role that genetics and the environment play needs to be studied further.

Treatments for Spina Bifida

No two cases of Spina Bifida are exactly alike. Health issues and treatments for the condition differ among people, with some having more issues than others. Those born with “open” Spina Bifida usually have more health issues and need more types of treatments. Sometimes when a baby has open Spina Bifida, doctors will perform surgery to close the spine before the baby is born. Many people with this open type of the condition have tethered spinal cords.

Normally, the bottom of the spinal cord floats around freely in the spinal canal. A tethered spinal cord is attached to the spinal canal. When this happens, the spinal cord stretches as a person grows, permanently damaging the spinal nerves. The person might have back pain, scoliosis (crooked spine), leg and foot weakness, bladder or bowel control changes, and other problems. A tethered spinal cord can be treated with surgery.

The prognosis

Vast progress in medical and surgical interventions over the past 40 years allows children born today with Spina Bifida to lead active and productive lives. According to the Spina Bifida association, approximately 90% of infants affected with the defect live well into adulthood. In addition, about 80% have typical intelligence. Twenty-year follow-up studies of children with the condition indicate they go to college at the same rates as the general population, and most are actively employed. As advancements in medical care for these children continue to expand, the outlook continues to improve.

ICON Rehab Powerchair

ICON Rehab Powerchair UK

Quantum Q6 Edge 2 Powerchair

Quantum Q6 Edge 2 Powerchair profile

Mobility for those with Spina Bifida

Some with Spina Bifida require the use of a specialised power wheelchair. Quantum Rehab, the global leader in individualised powerchairs, emphasises mobility technologies specific to the needs of those with Spina Bifida. Quantum powerchairs incorporate power-adjustable seating for user repositioning and comfort, speciality drive controls, including those requiring minimal hand strength, and a highly adaptable design to meet an individual’s current and future needs. Quantum powerchairs feature the latest advanced technologies to increase the independence of those living with Spina Bifida.

iLevel seat elevation technology allows users to operate the powerchair seated or standing. Bluetooth is also integrated into Quantum’s Q-Logic 3 electronics, so those with Spina Bifida can operate much of their environment with the power chair drive control. For those with the condition, Quantum powerchairs are designed to provide optimal medical comfort and maximum independence.


Those with Spina Bifida can benefit from the Quantum Edge 3 with industry-first 4.5 mph at iLevel which offers the most advanced powerchair experience. Q6 Powerchair series, which includes the Edge 3 and Q6 Edge 2 powerchairs, provide highly adjustable mid-wheel drive power bases. The Q6 Edge 2 all accept our optional iLevel technology, which offers up to 12 inches of lift at 4.5 mph. The 4Front is a quiet, more responsive front-wheel drive powerchair that features automotive-grade suspension with unprecedented comfort and rides quality.

Related Reading: What Is Post-Polio Syndrome?

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