Lack of folic acid and Vitamin B during pregnancy could lead to improper formation of the spine and nervous systems in babies
How often have we derisively called somebody spineless, just because they didn’t have the guts to go through with something? But have we ever stopped to think just how important the backbone is? It provides our bodies that much needed stability and support and even provides the nerves originating at the brain the channel to travel through before branching out to other body parts. But what about the children who are born with a defect in their spines and often have to deal with a lifetime of weakness or paralysis?
Spina Bifida is one such genetic ailment that continues to affect children. “Every unborn baby’s spine is open and gradually closes with both the ends fusing together. But in spina bifida the neural tube is improperly formed. Spina bifida translates to split spine,” says Dr Satish Ghanta, neonatologist at Little Stars Hospital.
It is believed that certain nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy can lead to this condition. “Often gynaecologists and nutritionists stress on the need to consume adequate vitamin B complex and folic acid during pregnancy as this plays a major role in the development of the baby. In fact, spina bifida is a preventable condition, if proper dietary care is taken during pregnancy,” says Dr N Somasekhar Reddy, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Apollo Hospital.
Types of Spina Bifida
There are three types of spina bifida that can affect babies
Spina bifida occulta: This is the mildest form of the condition and can barely be detected, unless it is specifically tested for. is the mildest form of spina bifida. Most children with this condition have little or no health problems.
Meningocele: This condition involves the meninges (the tissue that covers and protects the brain and the spinal cord). Due to the gap in the spine, the meninges can spill out of the gap between the vertebrae and form a protruding sac.
Myelomeningocele: This is the most severe form of the condition and it occurs when both the meninges and the spinal cord spill out of the gap. Sometimes the brain cells can also spill out as this connects to the brain. There could be a swelling and can lead to complications as well.
Dr Satish explains that the symptoms in each of the three types of spina bifidas vary according to the extent of the condition and how many nerves are actually spilling out of the gap. “Other symptoms include weakness in the legs, poor bladder control, inability to control stools, lack of sensation in the limbs or paralysis of the lower limbs,” he says.
“Children with spina bifida occulta seldom require any treatment. Babies with meningocele usually have a surgery soon after birth,” says Dr Somasekhar. Usually this surgery involves pushing back the spilling tissue and closing the gap and these patients will have no other problems once the surgery has been performed. Dr Satish explains, “But with patients with myelomeningocele, the prognosis is bad. Depending on the extent of the condition, the condition could also be fatal.” Usually these patients require surgery within a day or two of birth.