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Spina bifida is the most common disabling birth defect in the United States. It is a type of neural tube defect, which are defects of the brain or spinal cord. Spina bifida happens when the spine of the fetus does not form properly during the first month of pregnancy. As a result, nerves controlling leg movements and other functions are damaged.
People with spina bifida have varying degrees of paralysis of the legs. They often need devices such as leg braces, crutches, or wheelchairs to get around. They may have urinary or bowel problems. Most people with spina bifida have normal intelligence, but some have a learning disability.
People with spina bifida also are at higher risk of latex allergy. Allergic reactions to latex can be life-threatening. So people with spina bifida should avoid any contact with latex. Latex can be found in many common medical and household items, including gloves, adhesive bandages (e.g., Band-Aids), condoms, rubber bands, and pacifiers.
Spina bifida can affect many aspects of life. But people with spina bifida are able to adapt their home and workplace to suit their specific needs.
The cause of spina bifida is not known. Experts think that both genes and environment play roles. We do know that getting enough folic acid during early pregnancy greatly lowers the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. For this reason and because many pregnancies are unplanned, all sexually active women who are able to get pregnant should take 400 micrograms (mcg) to 800 micrograms (mcg) everyday. Women with spina bifida should talk to their doctors about how much folic acid they need.
Explore other publications and websites
Depression and Anxiety in Individuals With Spina Bifida (Copyright © Spina Bifida Association) — This publication explains what the symptoms of anxiety and depression are, what causes them, and how they are diagnosed and treated in persons with Spina Bifida.
Employees Who Use Wheelchairs (Copyright © Job Accommodation Network) — This gives basic information about common limitations, accommodation possibilities, and ergonomics for people who use wheelchairs.
Frequently Asked Questions About Spina Bifida (Copyright © Spina Bifida Association) — This publication gives general information about spina bifida and answers questions about living with spina bifida.
Hip Function (Copyright © Spina Bifida Association) — This publication discusses the 4 physical aspects that are needed to walk. Although some children with spina bifida may be able to walk, hip and joint abnormalities can often cause problems as they become adults.
Latex (Natural Rubber) Allergy in Spina Bifida (Copyright © Spina Bifida Association) — This publication has information about the prevalence of latex allergy in people with spina bifida. It lists some common items that are made out of latex and gives tips for preventing allergic reactions.
NINDS Spina Bifida Information Page — This fact sheet offers information on the treatment and prognosis of patients with spina bifida (SB). It also provides a general overview of SB and a summary of research being done on this birth defect.
Obesity (Copyright © Spina Bifida Association) — Obesity is a major risk factor for many health problems in all people. But people with spina bifida have a very high risk of obesity. This fact sheet explains the risk factors of obesity specific to people with spina bifida, how you can prevent obesity, and what you can do to reduce your weight and become healthier.
Spina Bifida (Copyright © Nemours Foundation) — This online publication for parents includes information about spina bifida. It provides the causes, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, preventive measures, and ways to care for a child with spina bifida. It also gives tips to help parents know when to contact their child’s doctor.
Travel With a Disability: Easier Than Ever (Copyright © Spina Bifida Association) — This publication offers specific advice on how people with disabilities can minimize the hassles of traveling in buses, trains, cruise ships, and planes. It also lists hints and tips for novice travelers about how they can be prepared and find accessible accommodations.
Urologic Care and Management (Copyright © Spina Bifida Association) — This publication gives information on the importance of maintaining urinary health in children with spina bifida in order to prevent kidney problems. It also discusses urinary continence, bowel control, and transitioning into adulthood.
Connect with other organizations
March of Dimes
National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, CDC
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH, HHS
Spina Bifida Association
Content last updated September 22, 2009.
Resources last updated September 22, 2009.
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