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Complications of Spina Bifida

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-02-18 (Rev. 2015-09-15) - Complications of spina bifida can range from minor physical problems to severe physical and mental disabilities. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disabled World.

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"Some newborns with myelomeningocele may develop meningitis, an infection in the meninges. Meningitis may cause brain injury and can be life-threatening. "

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 sensation.

In addition to loss of sensation and paralysis, another neurological complication associated with spina bifida is Chiari II malformation, a 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 shunt, a hollow tube, in 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.



Related Information:

  1. Fetal Spina Bifida Surgery - Scan May Reveal Best Candidates - NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development - (2015-09-15)
  2. Diagnosing Spina Bifida in Infants - Disabled World - (2009-02-18)
  3. Spina Bifida Treatment - Disabled World - (2009-02-18)

Information from our Spina Bifida: Research & Treatment News section - (Full List).


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