Disease at a Glance

Summary
Spina bifida is a type of neural tube defect in which the neural tube (the structure in an embryo that becomes the brain and spinal cord) does not completely close during development in the womb. This may result in part of the spinal cord sticking out through an opening in the spine, leading to permanent nerve damage. Babies born with Spina bifida often have a fluid-filled sac, covered by skin, on their back. This is called a meningocele. If the sac contains part of the spinal cord and its protective covering, it is known as a myelomeningocele. The signs and symptoms of Spina bifida can range from mild to severe, depending on the location and extent of spinal cord involvement. Possible symptoms include include a loss of feeling below the level of the opening, weakness or paralysis of the feet or legs, problems with bladder and bowel control, hydrocephalus, and learning problems. The cause in most cases is multifactorial, which means that both genetic and environmental factors interact to cause Spina bifida. Some cases may be due to the inheritance of specific genetic changes, chromosome abnormalities, or fetal exposure to teratogens. Maternal folate deficiency increases the risk to have a baby with Spina bifida, and women who take folic acid supplements before and during early pregnancy are much less likely to have a baby with Spina bifida. There is also a milder form of the condition called Spina bifida occulta in which the nerves develop normally and health problems rarely occur.
Estimated Number of People with this Disease
In the U.S. there may be between

30,000 to 200,000

What Information Does GARD Have For This Disease?

Many rare diseases have limited information. Currently GARD is able to provide the following information for this disease:

*Data may be currently unavailable to GARD at this time.
When do symptoms of this disease begin?
The most common ages for symptoms of a disease to begin is called age of onset. Age of onset can vary for different diseases and may be used by a doctor to determine the diagnosis. For some diseases, symptoms may begin in a single age range or several age ranges. For other diseases, symptoms may begin any time during a person's life.
Prenatal
Before Birth
Newborn Selected
Birth-4 weeks
Infant Selected
1-23 months
Child
2-11 years
Adolescent
12-18 years
Adult
19-65 years
Older Adult
65+ years
The common ages for symptoms to begin in this disease are shown above by the colored icon(s).

Symptoms

This section is currently in development. We recommend speaking with a doctor to learn more about this disease. 

Causes

This section is currently in development. 

Next Steps

Talking with the Medical Team

Good communication between the patient, family, and medical team can lead to an accurate diagnosis. In addition, health care decisions can be made together which improves the patient’s well-being and quality of life.

Describing Symptoms

Describe details about the symptoms. Because there may be many different causes for a single symptom, it is best not to make a conclusion about the diagnosis. The detailed descriptions help the medical provider determine the correct diagnosis.

To help describe a symptom:

  • Use a smartphone or a notebook to record each symptom before the appointment
  • Describe each symptom by answering the following questions:
    • When did the symptom start?
    • How often does it happen?
    • Does anything make it better or worse?
  • Tell the medical team whether any symptoms affect daily activities

Preparing for the First Visit

Working with a medical team to find a diagnosis can be a long process that will require more than one appointment. Make better health decisions by being prepared for the first visit with each member of the medical team.

    Make informed decisions about health care: 
    • Prepare a list of questions and concerns before the appointment
    • List the most important questions first, not all questions may be answered in the first visit
    • Ask questions about symptoms, possible diagnoses, tests, and treatment options
    For future appointments:
    • Discuss what was not addressed at the last visit
    • Discuss changes in the quality of life for the patient, family, and caregivers
    • Discuss health goals and other issues in the patient’s and family’s life that may affect the health care decisions
    Take notes during the appointments to help remember what was discussed.

    Last Updated: Nov. 8, 2021