Spina Bifida/Myelomeningocele

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida results from the incomplete closure of the spine during pregnancy. The spinal cord normally develops with a protective layer around it. In spina bifida, this protective layer does not form completely. This leaves the spinal cord susceptible to damage. Spina bifida is usually detected prenatally by the second trimester (16-18 weeks gestation). There are four main types of spina bifida, ranging from mild to severe.

Spina Bifida Occulta

Spina bifida occulta is most common and mild form. It includes the malformation of 1 or more vertebrae (bones) surrounding the spinal cord. This malformation is covered by skin and rarely causes any disorder.

Closed Neural Tube Defects

Closed neural tube defects are spinal cord defects involving malformations of fat, bone, or meninges. Meninges are layers of tissue surrounding the spinal cord. These patients rarely have symptoms. Some malformations may cause partial paralysis, as well as bowel and bladder issues.


Meningoceles occur when the layers surrounding the spinal cord protrude from the back. This creates the appearance of a fluid-filled sac on the back of the patient. The symptoms vary from patient to patient. Some patients have few to no symptoms. Other patients have complete paralysis with bowel and bladder issues.


Myelomeningocele is the most severe form of spina bifida. It occurs when the spinal cord and its surrounding layers protrude through the spine. It can result in partial or complete paralysis. Children may also have bowel and bladder issues.

How is Spina Bifida Treated?

Treatment depends on the severity of the spina bifida. Severe forms require some amount of surgical intervention. The earlier the surgical intervention, the better the outcome. For this reason, it is important to have regular prenatal check-ups. This can help identify spina bifida as early as possible. Children with more mild forms may not require any surgical treatment. These patients should have close follow-up to ensure normal development.

What is the Prognosis for Spina Bifida?

The prognosis for spina bifida depends on the severity of malformation. Those with spinal cord involvement have the most difficult prognosis. This includes cases of meningocele myelomeningocele. This because nerve tissue damage is permanent. The prognosis is normally better for patients who receive treatment as early as possible.