Spina Bifida - Complications

Did your child or loved one experience complications associated with spina bifida?

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What are the complications of spina bifida?

Complications of spina bifida range from minor physical problems to severe physical and mental disabilities. It is important to note, however, that most people with spina bifida have normal intelligence. Children with myelomeningocele and/ or hydrocephalus (excess accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in and around the the brain) may have learning disabilities, including difficulty paying attention, problems with language and reading comprehension, and trouble learning math.

Spina bifida's impact is determined by the size and location of the malformation, whether it is covered by skin, and which spinal nerves are involved. All nerves located below the malformation are affected to some degree. Therefore, the higher the malformation occurs on the back, the greater the amount of nerve damage and loss of muscle function and sensation.

In addition to abnormal sensation and paralysis, another neurological complication associated with spina bifida is Chiari II malformation -- a condition common in children with myelomeningocele -- in which the brain stem and the cerebellum (hindbrain) protrude downward into the spinal canal or neck area. This condition can lead to compression of the spinal cord and cause a variety of symptoms, including difficulties with feeding, swallowing, breathing control, choking, and changes in upper extremity function (stiffness, swelling).

Chiari II malformation may also result in a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid, causing hydrocephalus. The buildup of fluid puts damaging pressure on the brain and spinal cord. Hydrocephalus is commonly treated by surgically implanting a shunt-a hollow tube -- in the brain to drain the excess fluid into the abdomen.

Some newborns with myelomeningocele may develop meningitis, an infection in the meninges. Meningitis may cause brain injury and can be life-threatening.

Additional problems such as latex allergies, skin integrity breakdown, gastrointestinal conditions, disorders of sleep regulation, and depression may occur as children with spina bifida get older.

Return to Spina Bifida and Anencephaly (Neural Tube Defects)


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