Spina bifida may cause no symptoms or only minor physical disabilities. Frequently, it leads to severe physical and mental disabilities.

Factors that affect severity

The severity of the condition is affected by:

  • The size and location of the neural tube defect
  • Whether skin covers the affected area
  • Which spinal nerves come out of the affected area of the spinal cord

Range of complications

Complications may include:

  • Physical and neurological problems. This may include lack of normal bowel and bladder control and partial or complete paralysis of the legs. Children and adults with this form of spina bifida might need crutches, braces or wheelchairs to help them get around, depending on the size of the opening in the spine and the care received after birth.
  • Accumulation of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus). Babies born with myelomeningocele also commonly experience accumulation of fluid in the brain, a condition known as hydrocephalus. Most babies with myelomeningocele will need a ventricular shunt — a surgically placed tube that allows fluid in the brain to drain as needed into the abdomen. This tube might be placed just after birth, during the surgery to close the sac on the lower back, or later as fluid accumulates.
  • Infection in the tissues surrounding the brain (meningitis). Some babies with myelomeningocele may develop meningitis, an infection in the tissues surrounding the brain, which may cause brain injury and can be life-threatening.
  • Other complications. Additional problems may arise as children with spina bifida get older. Children with myelomeningocele may develop learning disabilities, including difficulty paying attention, problems with language and reading comprehension, and trouble learning math. Children with spina bifida may also experience latex allergies, skin problems, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal disorders and depression.
Oct. 04, 2011

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