Myelomenigocele is the most severe type of spina bifida. It occurs when the spinal cord is exposed through an opening in the spine, resulting in partial or complete paralysis of the parts of the body below the spinal opening. There is no cure, because the nerve tissue cannot be replaced or repaired. However, treatments such as surgery, assistive devices, and ongoing medical care can help prevent and manage complications.
What Is Myelomeningocele?
Spina bifida is a condition that is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or meninges (the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord).
Myelomeningocele is the most severe type of spina bifida -- it also makes up 75 percent of the spina bifida cases that are diagnosed. This condition occurs when the spinal cord is exposed through an opening in the spine, resulting in partial or complete paralysis of the parts of the body below the opening. The paralysis may be so severe that the affected individual is unable to walk and may have urinary and bowel dysfunction. There is no cure for myelomeningocele, because the nerve tissue cannot be replaced or repaired.
Understanding the Neural Tube and Spina Bifida
The human nervous system develops from a small, specialized plate of cells along the back of an embryo. Early in development, the edges of this plate begin to curl up toward each other, creating the neural tube, which is a narrow sheath that closes to form the brain and spinal cord of the embryo. As development progresses, the top of the tube becomes the brain and the remainder of the tube becomes the spinal cord. This process is usually complete by the 28th day of pregnancy. However, if problems occur during this process, the result can be brain disorders called neural tube defects, including spina bifida.