Skip to main content

Conditions We Treat

Spina Bifida Clinic

At the Phoenix Children’s Spina Bifida Clinic, we focus on making accurate diagnoses and finding the best treatments for children with spina bifida.

What is Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a type of birth defect where a baby’s spinal column doesn’t form correctly in the womb. The result is an opening in the spine, which can lead to nerve and spinal cord damage.

Spina bifida is the most common type of neural tube disorder (birth defects of the brain, spine and spinal cord). Between 1,500 and 2,000 babies are born with it each year. Spina bifida may cause physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe. The severity depends on the size and location of the opening in the spine and whether part of the spinal cord and nerves are affected.

Spina Bifida Types

There are four types of spina bifida:

  • Spina bifida occulta is the most common type and the mildest. It’s also called hidden spina bifida. You may never know that your child has this form of spina bifida, or you may see a hairy patch, dark spot or dimple on your baby’s back over the defect in the spine.
  • Closed neural tube defects happen when the bones and other parts of the spinal column don’t form correctly, which can sometimes damage the nerves in the spinal cord. Your child may have no symptoms with this condition, or they may have problems with their bladder and bowel functions.
  • Meningocele is the rarest form of spina bifida. Meninges are membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. With meningocele, these membranes push out through a gap in the spine to form a fluid-filled sac on the baby’s back. This sac usually causes little or no nerve damage, but some children may have paralysis and bowel and bladder problems. For many children, surgery helps them grow and develop normally.
  • Myelomeningocele is also called open spina bifida and is the most severe form of this condition. It happens when part of the spinal cord pushes out through the opening in the baby’s spine. This forms a sac on the baby’s back, and nerve damage can cause paralysis. Infection is also a risk, and babies with this condition need surgery within a few days of birth. Some centers do surgery before the baby is born. Our specialists at Phoenix Children’s can refer you to a center that fits your needs.

What Causes Spina Bifida

The exact cause of spina bifida isn’t known. In general, scientists believe it’s caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. If you have had a child with spina bifida, your risk is higher than average for having another child with this condition.

Taking a folic acid supplement reduces your risk of having a child with spina bifida. It’s important for every woman of childbearing age to take this vitamin.

Share this page