What is Spina Bifida (Myelomeningocele)?
Spina bifida means that the spinal cord has not formed properly. There are different types of spina bifida. A myelomeningocele is the most severe form.
In this form, the bones of the spine (vertebrae) and the skin that surrounds the spinal cord are not completely closed. Part of the spinal cord and the nerves come through the opening in the back. At birth, a baby may have a sac sticking out of the spinal defect. The baby will need surgery soon after birth to close the sac. This is often diagnosed by ultrasound during pregnancy. Depending on the location of the spinal defect, spina bifida children will have some problems with their legs, bladder and bowel control. Depending on the level of the myelomeningocele, leg problems range from weakness in the legs to complete loss of movement.
Children with spina bifida may have other problems. These include:
- Hydrocephalus (increased fluid in the brain) occurs in 95% of children with spina bifida. We will monitor your child's brain with MRI scans.
- Kidney, bladder or bowel control problems, and bladder infections
- Decreased movement and lack of feeling to pain, touch, and temperature in areas below the level of the myelomeningocele
- Foot and leg deformities
- Scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
- Skin breakdown in the feet because of lack of feeling
- Chiari malformation (problem with the brain that can cause hand weakness, swallowing and speech problems, and often breathing problems). Almost all spina bifida patients have Chiari malformation, but only a few of them will need surgery.
- Latex allergy (sensitive to rubber products)
Because of these defects, the child with spina bifida should be followed closely by a team of practitioners. This team includes:
- Nurses who coordinate care and help you to access resources and provide patient/family education
- Neurosurgeon who specializes in the brain and spinal cord (myelomeningocele, hydrocephalus)
- Urologist who specializes in kidney and bladder function and infections
- Orthopedic Surgeon who specializes in leg deformities and scoliosis
- Therapists and Rehabilitation Specialists who help with movement, exercise, and adapting to routine daily activity
- Psychologist who specializes in social, education, and interactive concerns
All of these practitioners are often seen on the same day at the Spina Bifida Clinic at UW-Madison. To schedule an appointment, please call the AFCH Pediatric Specialty Clinics at (608) 263-6420.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 03/15/2012
Copyright © 03/15/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5336
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