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Risk Factors for Spina Bifida

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-02-18 (Rev. 2015-09-15) - This article looks at some of the risk factors for Spina Bifida when neural tubes do not develop or close properly in some babies. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Ian Langtree at Disabled World.

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Quote: "Couples who have had one child with a neural tube defect have a slightly higher chance of having another baby with the same defect."

Doctors are still not certain what causes spina bifida, or why neural tubes do not develop or close properly in some babies, though research into Spina bifida is making some progress. This article looks at some of the risk factors for Spina Bifida.

Spina bifida, which literally means "cleft spine," is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or meninges (the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord). It is the most common neural tube defect in the United States, affecting 1,500 to 2,000 of the more than 4 million babies born in the country each year.

Doctors are still not certain what causes spina bifida, or why neural tubes do not develop or close properly in some babies, though research into Spina bifida is making some progress.

Identified risk factors for spina bifida include:

Gender

More female babies are born with spina bifida.

Race

Spina bifida is more common among Hispanics and whites of Northern European descent.

Folic acid deficiency

This vitamin is important to the healthy development of a fetus. Lack of folic acid (vitamin B-9) increases the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

Increased body temperature. Some evidence suggests that increased body temperature (hypothermia) in the early months of pregnancy may increase the risk of spina bifida. Elevating your core body temperature by about 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, due to fever or the use of saunas and hot tubs, can raise body temperature and has been associated with an increased risk of spina bifida.

Diabetes

The risk of spina bifida increases with diabetes, especially when the mother's blood sugar is elevated early in her pregnancy. Careful blood sugar control and management can decrease this risk.

Obesity

There is a link between pre-pregnancy obesity and neural tube birth defects, including spina bifida. Exactly why obese women have an increased risk of having a baby with spina bifida is not known, but is possibly because of nutritional deficits from poor eating habits or because they may have diabetes - another known risk factor for neural tube defects.

Medications

Anti-seizure medications, such as valproic acid (Depakene), seem to cause neural tube defects when taken during pregnancy, perhaps because they interfere with the body's ability to use folic acid.

Family history

Couples who have had one child with a neural tube defect have a slightly higher chance of having another baby with the same defect. That risk increases if two previous children have been affected by the condition. In addition, a woman who was born with a neural tube defect, or who has a close relative with one, has a greater chance of giving birth to a child with spina bifida. However, most babies with spina bifida are born to parents with no known family history of the condition.

Research studies indicate that insufficient intake of folic acid, a common B vitamin, in the mother's diet is a key factor in causing spina bifida and other neural tube defects. Prenatal vitamins that are prescribed for the pregnant mother typically contain folic acid as well as other vitamins.

Folic acid, also called folate, is an important vitamin in the development of a healthy fetus. Although taking this vitamin cannot guarantee having a healthy baby, it can help. Recent studies have shown that by adding folic acid to their diets, women of childbearing age significantly reduce the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida. Therefore, it is recommended that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Foods high in folic acid include dark green vegetables, egg yolks, and some fruits. Many foods, such as some breakfast cereals, enriched breads, flours, pastas, rice, and other grain products, are now fortified with folic acid. A lot of multivitamins contain the recommended dosage of folic acid as well.

Women who have a child with spina bifida, have spina bifida themselves, or have already had a pregnancy affected by any neural tube defect are at greater risk of having a child with spina bifida or another neural tube defect. These women may require more folic acid BEFORE they become pregnant.

Related Information:

  1. Report on Prenatal Surgeries for Spina Bifida - Children's Hospital of Philadelphia - (2014-08-26)
  2. Fetal Spina Bifida Surgery - Scan May Reveal Best Candidates - NIH/Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development - (2015-09-15)
  3. Complications of Spina Bifida - Disabled World - (2009-02-18)




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