Spina bifida

Spina bifida

Spina bifida is a common birth defect affecting 5,000 Australians.

The condition occurs when the tissue surrounding the developing spinal cord of a foetus doesn’t close properly.

Spina bifida can cause a number of problems including...

  • reduced sensation in the lower body, legs and feet, leading to the possibility of burns and pressure sores

  • a degree of paralysis of the lower body and legs, causing walking difficulties or inability to walk

  • different degrees and types of urinary and/or bowel incontinence

  • some sexual dysfunction, particularly related to penile erection and ejaculation

  • deformities of the spine – commonly scoliosis, where the spine bends into an ‘S’ shape

  • cord tethering - the spinal cord sticks to the area of the original lesion and becomes stretched

  • Arnold Chiari malformation – an abnormality of the back of the brain and upper spinal cord which can cause disturbance of breathing, swallowing, eye movement and fluid flow, leading to hydrocephalus

  • learning difficulties.

The specific cause of spina bifida is not known but genetic and environmental factors can increase the chance of development.

To reduce the risk of having a child with spina bifida women are encouraged to ensure they are getting enough folate in their diet or take a supplement one month before conception and for the first three months of pregnancy.

There is no cure for spina bifida, however, treatment may involve surgery depending on the severity of the condition.