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Spina Bifida: Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is a physical deformity occurring in newborns and babies, where the neural tube that forms the brain and spinal cord is not fully developed. Spina Bifida deformity can range from mild to severe depending on the size, location, and type of defect. This can impact various aspects of the the child such as growth, mobility, health issues and impact families and extended forms of support. Spina Bifida needs extensive care and can last as long as the individuals lifespan.

Most Common Types of Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida can be of three types, ranging from common to very rare.

Spina bifida occulta is the most common type that results in the separation of one or more bones in the spine. This form is often undetected and has little to no impact on the person's overall well-being.

The second type is Myelomeningocele, which is a severe form of Spina Bifida, where there is an opening in the spinal canal. They often form a sack in the back of the baby, resulting in an exporter of nerves and tissues. This makes the baby prone to infections and other health complications.

Symptoms of Spina Bifida

As mentioned earlier, several spina bifida symptoms can be traced back to the disorder. The bulging sack in the back is a good marker for Spina Bifida. Other symptoms include weak legs and hips, seizures, and bowel or bladder problems. Symptoms are often seen during childbirth or can be identified during various stages of fetus growth. 

These symptoms can vary in degree of severity, depending on the complexity of the illness. While some people can go about their daily functioning with the illness, it can result in paralysis, immobility and a series of health concerns such as difficulty in breathing, walking, sitting up right, susceptibility to infections and allergies.

Conditions Associated with Spina Bifida

A few common conditions that are associated with Spina Bifida causes are 

Chiari II malformation (deformity), where a part of the brain pushes through the opening at the bottom of the skull. This can have implications on the overall neural and motor development of the individual.

Hydrocephalus refers to the filling of fluids around the brain. This can result in doctors draining the fluid, which can impact the person's attention and intellectual functioning. This can also impact the functioning of the person, impact the development of the person's nervous system.

The tethered spinal cord is when the spinal cord attaches to the bony defect, resulting in pain and discomfort. This can limit physical movement, cause pain while engaging in daily activities such as walking, running and sitting.

Diagnosis of Spina Bifida

One of the earliest ways to detect Spina Bifida is at the fetus stage, where three tests can be performed. A blood test, to check levels of a particular type of protein called the Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) can ascertain any presence of Spina Bifida

An ultrasound scan can also be performed to see any sort of physical abnormality in the fetus through imaging. Amniocentesis fluids can be checked for levels of proteins that can help identify the presence of the deformity.

These tests will help determine the severity of the condition and allow doctors to plan possible recovery and intervention to minimize the condition. It can also help families prepare for care for such patients, which will allow the person to cope well with regular human activities.

Risk of Spina Bifida

Risk factors for Spina Bifida are as follows

Family history of neural tube defects is one of the risk factors for it, where the person is likely to have a second child with the defect if there has been a child born with it before. It is also likely that women who suffer from Spina Bifida may give birth to children with it. Most cases occur even when parents do not have the ailment.

Folate deficiency is another risk factor where the lack of folic acid and vitamin B-9 can increase the risk of being affected with Spina Bifida.

Other risk factors are obesity in women and men, a sudden surge in body temperature in the early weeks of pregnancy, and medications such as anti-seizure, which may disrupt the supply of folic acid to the fetus.

Complications of Spina Bifida

Since it impacts the spine, it can have several complications such as 

Impairment and mobility issues - this can occur as the spinal cord is not fully developed to control the body, and can result in a lack of mobility of certain body parts such as feet, arms, and shoulders.

Orthopedic complications such as scoliosis, dislocation of the hips, bone, and joint deformity can also occur. These can have direct implications for daily mobility and lifestyle of a person.

Bowel and bladder problems can also be common as the spine may not be able to communicate with the nerves and muscles of the region.

Other complications can be sensitive skin, latex allergy, difficulty in sleeping, headache, nausea, general irritation, etc.

Physiotherapy for Spina Bifida

Physiotherapy for spina bifida treatment is a great way to help the individual in their day-to-day activities, and allow the person to adapt to new conditions and work towards improving mobility and motor responses of the body. Physiotherapists can help identify areas of focus and chart out plans that can help with strengthening, mobility, and flexibility through spina bifida physical therapy. 

After an assessment, the physiotherapy team can put the person on various rehabilitation regimes that cater to the individual's needs. Some of them can include things like daily exercises, water aerobics, and support. Here are a few of them.

Exercise such as treadmill walking, gait training, and stretching can be some of the common intervention methods for this. 

Hydrotherapy can also be inculcated in the daily rehabilitation process of the individual depending on the individual's health and mobility. This can help increase movement and reduce pain while trying to engage in exercise

These exercises can contribute to the strengthening of the muscles, improve movement and allow the person to go about their daily activities with a little more ease. It can also help them be independent to a large extent.

Besides these, equipment and assistive devices may be used to allow the person to carry out functions with less dependence on others. Equipment such as wheelchairs, lumbar support mechanisms and other equipment can help improve posture, help with mobility and can reduce pain in joints and the pack. These support systems can however be expensive and some places may not be accessible to them.

Child therapists can intervene in schools that will allow children to participate in school-related activities.

Prevention of Spina Bifida

It is important to ensure that the body is receiving enough folic acid in a person who is expecting a child. Folic intake before and during pregnancy is vital for the development of the spine. 

Since it mostly occurs during pregnancy, it is important to stay away from any medication that might aggravate the risk. Avoiding hot saunas and taking care to not have high body temperature are also important ways of preventing the ailment.

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