October is National Spina Bifida Awareness Month

spina bifida awareness monthOctober is National Spina Bifida awareness month. Below, we’ve compiled some helpful information about spina bifida for you to share with loved ones, colleagues, and friends.

What is Spina Bifida?

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:

Spina bifida is characterized by the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or meninges (the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord). It is the most common neural tube defect in the United States—affecting 1,500 to 2,000 of the more than 4 million babies born in the country each year.

What causes Spina Bifida

No one is sure about what exactly causes spina bifida, though scientists believe that the condition may be due to certain genetic and/or environmental factors.

4 Types of Spina Bifida

There are four different types of spina bifida. These include the following:

Occult Spinal Dysraphism (OSD)

  • defined by a group of abnormalities that occur during the development of a human embryo, beginning in the second week of gestation. They are the result of incomplete or incorrect formation of the spinal cord, spinal column, and overlying skin1.
  • sometimes referred to as "Tethered cord syndrome" (TCS)
  • characterized by a dimple an the infant's lower back, but requires special tools & tests to be sure
  • Other signs include: red marks, hyperpigmented patches, tufts of hair, & small lumps
  • In adults, symptoms typically include: sever pain in lower back, muscle weakness, loss of feeling/movement in lower extremities, & bowel control issues

Spina Bifida Occulta (SBO)

  • is the mildest, most common form of spina bifida
  • characterized by one or more malformed vertebrae
  • "occulta" means "hidden"
  • This form of spina bifida is present in 10-20 percent of the general population and rarely causes disability or symptoms.


  • occurs when part of the spinal cord comes through the spine (like a sac that is pushed out)
  • characterized by spinal fluid and meninges protruding through an abnormal vertebral opening
  • malformation may not contain any neural elements
  • some individuals may show little to no symptoms while others may experience more severe symptoms, such as: complete paralysis with bladder/bowel dysfunction

Myelomeningocele (Meningomyelocele), aka: Spina Bifida Cystica

  • is the most severe form of Spina Bifida
  • occurs when parts of the spinal cord and nerves come through the open part of the spine
  • causes nerve damage and other disabilities
  • may result in complete paralysis of parts of the body below the spinal opening
  • 70-90 percent of children with this type of Spina Bifida have too much fluid on their brains due to the fact that the fluid which protects the brain and spinal cord is unable to drain like it should.

Facts About Spina Bifida

The following are other interesting, useful facts about spina bifida2.

  • The term, "Spina Bifida," literally means “cleft spine” or “split spine”.
  • Conditions associated with Spina Bifida include: mobility, bladder/bowel control, obesity, learning disabilities, and more.
  • Spina Bifida can be detected before birth. Currently, there are 3 tests: 1) a blood test during the 16th to 18th weeks of pregnancy, 2) an ultrasound/sonogram of the fetus, and 3) maternal amniocentesis - where fluid from the womb is extracted via a thin needle



1. [Occult Spinal Dysraphism and Tethered Spinal Cord, Chiari & Syringomyelia Foundation]
2. [What is Spina Bifida? Spina Bifida Association]