Neural Tube Defects
Spina bifida is classified by the Mayo Clinic as a type of neural tube defect. The neural tube, or embryonic structure, forms during early pregnancy and closes typically 28 days after conception.
However, in babies with spina bifida (and other neural tube defects) this embryonic structure that eventually encloses the fetus’ brain and spinal cord develops improperly, leaving defects in the spinal cord and tissues and bones of the spine.
What Causes Spina Bifida?
Although scientists speculate a that environmental and genetic factors may play collaborative roles in spina bifida development, they cannot pinpoint a clear cause for the defect.
However, the Mayo Clinic explains that spina bifida may be linked to a combination of family history of (genetic) neural tube defects and folic acid deficiency (environmental) factors.
Forms and Severity
Spina bifida cases vary in severity and form. For instance, the Spina Bifida Association identifies four different types of spina bifida—Spina Bifida Occulta (or hidden spina bifida), which is the mildest form and only causes small gaps in the spinal vertebrae and causes few visible symptoms; Occult Spinal Dysraphism (or OSD), which develops as a small dimple on a baby’s lower back and can cause redness, tufts of hair, small lumps, or hyper-pigmented patches due to the improper growth of the spinal cord.
Meningocele is a form of spina bifida that causes minor disability due to the emersion of the spinal cord and nerve fluid sac through the spine; and Myelomeningocele (or Spina Bifida Cystica), the most severe form, which occurs when the spinal cord and nerves emerge through an open gap in the spine and results in nerve damage, fluid on the brain, and potential brain damage.