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Spina Bifida

What Causes It?

The exact cause of spina bifida is not known. However, research scientists suspect that there may be a genetic cause or that nutritional and environmental factors may play a role in the development of the condition.
(Click Causes of Spina Bifida for more information about the possible causes of spina bifida, including risk factors.)


The symptoms of this condition vary from person to person, depending on the type of spina bifida. In most cases, people with spina bifida occulta (the mildest type) have no outward symptoms. In the most severe cases of spina bifida, infants will be born with an open lesion on their spine where significant damage to the nerves and spinal cord has occurred. Although the spinal opening can be surgically repaired shortly after birth, the nerve damage is permanent, resulting in varying degrees of paralysis of the lower limbs.
Other symptoms of spina bifida include:
  • Improperly formed or missing vertebrae and accompanying nerve damage
  • Physical and mobility difficulties
  • Learning disabilities.
(Click Symptoms of Spina Bifida for more information.)

Diagnosing Spina Bifida

In most cases, a spina bifida diagnosis is made before birth. However, mild cases may go unnoticed until after birth. Very mild cases, in which there are no symptoms, may never be detected.

(Click Spina Bifida Diagnosis for more information.)
Tests that are used to make a spina bifida diagnosis include:
  • Second-trimester maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein screening
  • Fetal ultrasound
  • Multiple-marker screens
  • Amniocentesis.
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Spina Bifida Information

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