According to the Spina Bifida Foundation Association, approximately 1,600 babies are born in the United States with Spina Bifida annually making it the most common and permanently disabling condition associated with live births. With October being Spina Bifida Awareness Month, many organizations strive to reach out to educate the public in an attempt to reduce the stigma of those affected and increase preventative measure taken by women of child bearing age.
Spina Bifida is known as the “snowflake” disease since no child has the same experience with the condition. The term “Spina Bifida” means “splitting of the vertebrae” and ranges in severity and complexity for each child. Several terms are used to describe the severity and characteristics for each type including a few of the most common:
Spina Bifida Occulta (SBO) affects 15 percent of those diagnosed that is also referred to as “hidden spina bifida” because most do not realize they have the condition until revealed later in life.
Meningocele is when a portion of the spine protrudes between the vertebrae of the fetus/newborn in a fluid sac. This is usually seen on ultrasound prior to birth and requires corrective surgery. This typically involves some form of mild disability.
Meningomyelocele (Spina Bifida Cystica) is the most severe and involves the spinal cord being further protruded through the vertebral space. This condition causes nerve damage and typically swelling in the brain as well. Corrective surgery is required and those affected have more serious life-long disabilities.
Spina Bifida is thought to be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors beyond the control of the parents. However, awareness activities are largely focused on the prevention of Spina Bifida with maternal health/prenatal care. With many pregnancies being unplanned and undetected until well after Spina Bifida would’ve developed, it is recommended that women of child bearing age take a multivitamin with at least 400mcg of folic acid, whether planning to become pregnant or not. Studies have shown that these supplements can reduce the risk of Spina Bifida and other neural tube defects by 70 percent. In addition, prenatal testing can identify Spina Bifida for the best treatment possible for families.
As the public health nurse and coordinator of the Children with Medical Handicaps program for Meigs County I want families to know that they’re not alone in their struggle. Whether your child has Spina Bifida or another medical condition I am here to listen and assist however I can. For questions, contact Angie Rosler RN at (740) 992-6626 Extension 1075.
Angie Rosler is the Meigs County Health Department’s Children with Medical Handicaps (CMH) Program nurse and coordinator.