Spina Bifida Care at Norton Children’s Hospital

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What Is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida happens when the brain, spinal cord or the membranes that cover them (meninges) don’t fully develop the way they should. Nearly 1,500 babies are born with spina bifida each year.

Types of Spina Bifida

  • Spina bifida occulta: This happens when there is a small area of bones at the bottom of the spine that does not close. This is a relatively common X-ray finding but is not considered true spina bifida. It rarely, if ever, causes any symptoms or requires evaluation and treatment.
  • Closed neural tube defect: This type happens when there are growths of fat, bone or membranes on the spinal cord. Most children with this type have few or no symptoms. In some cases, it may cause issues with walking or going to the bathroom.
  • Meningocele: This is the least common type of spina bifida. It happens when the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord stick out through an opening in the spinal column. Some children with this type may have minor symptoms, while others may have more serious issues with walking and going to the bathroom.
  • Myelomeningocele: This is the most serious type of spina bifida. This happens when the vertebrae do not close and the spinal cord doesn’t develop the way that it should. The result is full or partial paralysis. Children may have issues with controlling their bladder or bowels, mobility, growing and buildup of fluid in the cavities in the brain (hydrocephalus). Learning challenges also may be common.

Spina Bifida Diagnosis

Spina bifida can be found before birth with a blood test or after birth through imaging tests such a spinal ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Spina Bifida Treatment Options

The multidisciplinary Norton Children’s Spina Bifida Clinic meets monthly at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital to cover all of your child’s needs. The clinic is staffed by care providers specializing in neurosurgery, urology, orthopedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, physical therapy and orthotics.

Treatment depends on the type of spina bifida and symptoms. Children with more symptoms and a more serious type of spina bifida will need more care than children with milder forms of the condition.

Treatments may include:

  • Bracing or orthopedic surgery
  • Spine surgery for scoliosis
  • Bladder surgery
  • Bowel surgery
  • Education plans for learning issues
  • Physical therapy or occupational therapy
  • Surgery for a tethered spinal cord
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy and choroid plexus cauterization (ETV/CPC) procedure to help with hydrocephalus


Children can have a wide variety of outcomes based on the type of spina bifida they have. There could be little to no effect on a child’s life. Some children with more complex symptoms may need lifelong care for spina bifida.

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