Spina Bifida 

Drawing showing the spinal defect in spina bifida.

Drawing showing the spinal defect in spina bifida.

What Is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is a congenital defect of neural tube closure and among the commonest and most severe disorders of the fetus and newborn.1

Spina bifida is a defect in the walls of the spinal canal in the lumbar section (waist level) of the spine in which the backbone and spinal canal fail to close before birth.

Normally, during the first month of a pregnancy, the two sides of the spine join together to cover the spinal cord, spinal nerves and meninges. Meninges are tissues that cover the spinal cord. Spina bifida refers to any birth defect involving incomplete closure of the spine.

Q: What are the birth defects involving incomplete closure of the spine?

A: Myelomeningocele is the most common type of spina bifida. It is a neural tube defect in which the bones of the spine do not completely form, resulting in an incomplete spinal canal. This causes the spinal cord and meninges (the tissues covering the spinal cord) to stick out of the child’s back. Myelomeningocele may affect as many as 1 out of every 800 infants.

The rest of spina bifida cases are most commonly of these two types:

  • Spina bifida occulta, a condition in which the bones of the spine do not close but the spinal cord and meninges remain in place and skin usually covers the defect.
  • Meningoceles, a condition where the tissue covering the spinal cord sticks out of the spinal defect but the spinal cord remains in place.2

Spina bifida in the unborn results from deficiency of folic acid and/or vitamin B12 in the mother.3

Intervention trials have demonstrated conclusively that oral ingestion of extra folic acid can prevent the majority of cases of spina bifida and other neural tube defects (NTDs). Data from these studies offer conclusive evidence that the intake of 400 μg/day folic acid provides this benefit.4

What Is Spina Bifida In Celiac Disease and/or Gluten Sensitivity?


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  1. Copp AJ, Greene ND. Genetics and development of neural tube defects. J Pathol. 2010 Jan;220(2):217-30. doi: 10.1002/path.2643. []
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002525/ []
  3. Molloy AM, Kirke PN, Troendle JF, Burke H, Sutton M, Brody LC, Scott JM, Mills JL. Maternal vitamin B12 status and risk of neural tube defects in a population with high neural tube defect prevalence and no folic acid fortification. Pediatrics. 2009 Mar;123(3):917-23. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-1173. []
  4. Scott J. Folic acid consumption throughout pregnancy: differentiation between trimesters. Ann Nutr Metab. 2011;59(1):46-9. doi: 10.1159/000332127. Epub 2011 Nov 25.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics endorses the US Public Health Service (USPHS) recommendation that all women capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 microgram of folic acid daily to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). Studies have demonstrated that periconceptional folic acid supplementation can prevent 50% or more of NTDs such as spina bifida and anencephaly. ((Folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects. American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Genetics. Pediatrics. 1999 Aug;104(2 Pt 1):325-7. []