|Spina bifida is a developmental abnormality of the lower spine which occurs in the foetus during the early months of pregnancy. |
The result is that instead of a hard bony spine there is a gap through which the spinal cord and its membranes may protrude even through to the surface of the skin.
In its extreme form, the abnormality is seen at birth and may need immediate surgical correction if the child is to survive.
The type of spina bifida seen in late childhood or early adulthood is called spina bifida occulta. There is no obvious protrusion of the spinal cord or membranes and symptoms may or may not be present. Usually only one vertebra is affected, most commonly in the lower part of the spine. The gap in the bone may vary from being very small with few symptoms if any, to a larger gap with symptoms.
Spina bifida occulta can be associated with backache, foot drop and urinary tract symptoms including excessive night time passing of urine in a child.
A diagnostic sign of an underlying spina bifida can vary from a small dimple in the overlying skin to a tuft of hair over the lower spine in the case of a large gap or defect. The tuft of hair may be an early warning sign to obtain medical advice as to the need for corrective surgery before complications develop.
If the condition is minor with symptoms only of backache brought on by excessive flexing of the spine, then once diagnosed, it may only require back strengthening extension exercises with little to no flexion of the spine and a carrying on with a healthy physical lifestyle.
Many minor cases of spina bifida occulta are without symptoms and are only diagnosed by x-ray later on when general symptoms of back degeneration may appear.
There is good evidence to suggest that inadequate Folate (a B group vitamin) in the diet prior to pregancy and during the first three months of pregancy causes many cases of Spina Bifida. All women of reproductive age should consider taking at least 0.5 mg of Folate per day either in food (green vegetables, fruits etc) or as supplements.
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