by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Spina bifida (SB) is a birth defect. It is a problem with how the spine and spinal cord form. It may cause structures that should be inside the spinal canal to slip out.
The three most common types are:
The cause is not always known. It is likely due to:
SB is more likely in females. Other things that may raise the risk are:
SB occulta may not have any symptoms. Some with this type may never know they have SB. There may be a small tuft of hair or change in skin color over the low back.
The symptoms of meningocele and myelomeningocele are:
A blood test of the mother during pregnancy can predict the risk of SB. If the test predicts a high risk, then two more tests may be done:
After delivery, a meningocele and myelomeningocele can be seen. More tests will be done to find out what health problems the baby may have.
Most children with SB occulta will never be diagnosed. It rarely causes any symptoms. It also has few problems. It may be found during a routine medical exam or x-rays of the lower back.
SB occulta does not need treatment.
Meningocele SB is treated with surgery to remove the cyst.
Treatment for myelomeningocele SB is complex. Options are:
The risk of having a baby with SB can be lowered by taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy.
March of Dimes
Spina Bifida Association of America
Sick Kids—The Hospital for Sick Children
Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Canada
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). NINDS Spina Bifida 2015 Mar 10.
Spina bifida. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/spina-bifida. Accessed December 18, 2020.
Spina bifida. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at:
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Accessed December 18, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC
Last Updated: 6/2/2021