The signs of spina bifida in babies will vary based on type and level of severity and will vary from person to person. Spina bifida occulta, meningocele, and myelomeningocele are the three predominant forms of spina bifida. 

Signs of Spina Bifida Occulta

There are often no signs or symptoms associated with this mild form of spina bifida and it rarely causes disabilities. Babies with this condition can sometimes have a tuft of hair, small birthmark, or dimple on the skin above the site. 

Spina bifida occulta is sometimes called “hidden” spina bifida (occulta means hidden in Latin). A thin layer of skin “hides” or covers the opening in the vertebrae. 

Signs of Meningocele

Signs of meningocele include membranes (meninges) that surround the spinal cord that has pushed out through an opening in the vertebrae on the baby’s back, forming a sac filled with fluid. This sac does not include the spinal cord; therefore, there is generally little to no nerve damage. The opening may or may not be covered by a layer of skin.

Some people with meningocele have few or no symptoms associated with meningocele. Other individuals experience later complications including paralysis with bowel and bladder dysfunction. 

Signs of Myelomeningocele

Myelomeningocele is the most serious form of spina bifida, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Signs of myelomeningocele include:

  • An opening along several vertebrae in the middle or lower part of the baby’s back. 
  • A sac containing fluid, nerves, and part of the spinal cord that has pushed through this opening. The spinal cord and nerves in the sac are damaged.
  • Exposed nerves and tissues (rarely, skin covers the sac). This makes the baby vulnerable to life-threatening infections.
  • Muscle weakness in the baby’s legs, feet, and hips.

When people use the term spina bifida, myelomeningocele is usually the form of the condition they are referring to. 

Severe disabilities associated with this condition include bowel and bladder difficulties, inability to move the legs, and loss of feeling in the legs or feet.

Spina Bifida Diagnosis

The earliest possible diagnosis and treatment are important for meningocele and myelomeningocele. These forms of spina bifida are usually diagnosed before or right after birth. 

Prenatal Diagnosis

Prenatal screening tests are usually given to pregnant mothers to check for birth defects including spina bifida. The tests used aren’t perfect. Mothers who have positive tests sometimes have normal babies and a small percentage of mothers who have negative tests have babies born with spina bifida. 

An ultrasound may show abnormalities that can lead to a pre-birth diagnosis. At this point an intrauterine (inside the uterus) surgery can be performed and could improve a child’s long-term prognosis.

Postnatal Diagnosis

A postnatal diagnosis of spina bifida occulta not found through prenatal testing may be found after birth through a regular X-ray exam. A baby with more severe forms of spina bifida can have deformities visible to the naked eye present at birth.  

An ultrasound is usually performed to get a clearer look at the vertebrae and spinal cord to determine the severity of the defect. Computed tomography (CT) scans, X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be performed to confirm the findings. 

In rare instances, a doctor or other healthcare provider will miss or delay a spina bifida diagnosis which could seriously impact a child’s health and quality of life. If this happened to your child, seek the guidance of a birth injury lawyer today. You may be eligible for compensation. 

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