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Pediatric Neurology - Spina bifida

​​​​​​​​​Someone born with spina bifida has an opening in the spine where the spinal cord may protrude outside the body and become damaged. 

There are different forms of spina bifida, but the most common is Myelomeningocele. It occurs when a baby is born with a sack, containing nerves and part of the spinal cord, which is protruding from the opening of the spine.

Because the spinal cord hasn't developed normally and some nerves may have been damaged, a person with myelomeningocele will have some paralysis, as well as a loss of feeling in their legs. 

The amount of paralysis will vary, depending on where the opening is on the back.

Marshfield Clinic manages Spina Bifida through our Special Needs Clinic, to ensure that a child with Spina Bifida receives the most appropriate treatment to manage their disorder.


The treatment for Spina Bifida depends on the severity. Some children may need no treatment at all, where as babies born with Myelomeningocele will need surgery during their infancy.

Doctors gently push the spinal cord back inside the body through the opening on the spine and then close the opening.

Shunt Placement
Many children born with Spina Bifida also suffer from Hydrocephalus (extra fluid in the brain). To relieve pressure on the brain caused by the extra fluid, a ventricular peritoneal (VP) shunt is placed inside the brain. 

The shunt is connected to a catheter (thin, flexible tube) that is tunneled through the body to the abdomen. The shunt draws fluid off the brain and the fluid travels through the catheter and drains into the abdomen, where it is absorbed by the body.

Movement aids
Aids, such as a walker or leg braces, may be needed to help a child with Spina Bifida maintain balance and help with walking. Some children may not walk at all and need a wheelchair.​

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What Do You Know About Birth Defects?

See how much you know about birth defects. Learn what you can do to lower your risk.

1. How many babies in the U.S. are born with birth defects?
2. When is an unborn baby most at risk of developing a birth defect?
3. Which of these is a common birth defect?
4. Which of these habits of the mother-to-be can be harmful to the fetus?
5. A woman who is pregnant or considering pregnancy should get a health checkup. Which of these vaccines should be up to date before she gets pregnant because of the danger of the disease to the fetus?
6. Healthcare providers advise women to take 400 mcg of folic acid daily before they get pregnant and during pregnancy. What can this help prevent in the baby?
7. Pregnant women should not handle cat litter to lower the risk of becoming infected with which of these?
8. Which of these kinds of medicines can cause birth defects if taken when pregnant?
9. During prenatal care, a healthcare provider may recommend genetic screening tests for certain disorders. What is one thing that amniocentesis tests for?
10. Extra or missing chromosomes trigger genetic birth defects. What factor greatly increases the risk for an abnormal number of chromosomes in the fetus?