Spina bifida care at Norton Children’s Hospital

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 (hidden). This type of spina bifida happens when one or more of the bones in the spine (vertebrae) don’t grow the way they should. This is the most common type and causes the fewest problems. As many as 10 percent to 20 percent of all people have this type of spina bifida. Although it rarely causes symptoms or issues, a small percentage of people get symptoms.
  • 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 problems 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 and through imaging tests such as ultrasounds or an MRI. For babies and children, it can be found through an MRI or a spinal ultrasound.

Spina bifida treatment options

Treatment depends on the type of spina bifida and the 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
  • An ETV/CPC procedure that helps 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 affect on a child’s life. In the extreme, patients may need lifelong care for the condition.

Our Team

Jennifer M. Brey, M.D.
Joshua W. Meier, M.D.
Star L. Nixon, M.D.
Kent L. Walker, D.O.
Sarah DuPlessis, PA-C
Andrea E. Ryan, PA-C

Developmental-behavioral pediatrics and Genetics – 5347

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(502) 629-KIDS

Orthopedics – 5678

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(502) 394-5678

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