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Spina Bifida in Children


Spina bifida is a neural tube birth defect that prevents your child's vertebrae from forming correctly. The nerves in your child's spinal cord may be exposed, or form outside his vertebrae or skin. There are several types of spina bifida. Each type may affect your child in a different way. Spina bifida may cause nerve or brain damage. These increase his risk for learning disabilities, fluid buildup in the brain, or seizures. He may have delays in his education, self-care, and social skills. He may need to use a wheelchair, cane, or crutches. He may also have problems controlling his bladder and bowels.



  • Antiseizure medicine helps control and prevent seizures.
  • Anticholinergics help your child urinate.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him or her if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Your child may need further treatment with other specialists such as a neurologist, an orthopedic surgeon, or a urologist. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

Physical therapy:

A physical therapist teaches your child exercises to help improve strength, movement, and balance in his spine and joints. Physical therapy may also decrease pain.

Care for your child:

  • Care for his bladder and bowels: Clean your child's diaper area well to avoid infection or other health problems. You may need to learn how to insert a catheter so your child can urinate. Ask for more information about how to catheterize your child. You may also have to give your child an enema or stool softener so he can have regular bowel movements. This will help you predict and prepare for his bowel movements.
  • Protect your child's skin: Help him move or change positions often if he lies down or sits for long periods of time. This will help prevent sores on his skin. Check his skin often for redness or blisters.
  • Avoid all products that contain latex: Your child may become allergic to latex if he has spina bifida. Avoid latex to prevent an allergic reaction.
  • Help prevent obesity: Children with spina bifida are at risk for obesity. Feed him healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if he needs to be on a special diet.
  • Teach him how to care for himself: Teach him how to bathe, dress himself, and put on his braces or crutches when he is old enough to understand. Help him learn to catheterize himself and manage his bowel movements when he is between 3 and 5 years old. This will help him learn to care for himself.

Support devices:

Your child may need crutches, a cane, braces, a walker, or a wheelchair if his condition is severe. Ask for more information about how to use these devices.

For more information:

  • Spina Bifida Association
    4590 MacArthur Blvd.
    Washington , DC 20007-4226
    Phone: 1- 800 - 621-3141
    Web Address:

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has new skin redness, sores, or blisters.
  • Your child has a decreased ability to move, crawl, or walk.
  • Your child loses his appetite or vomits after he eats.
  • Your child has new or worse pain in his back or legs.
  • Your child has new or worse trouble urinating or having a bowel movement.
  • Your child's behavior changes, such as increased tiredness, clumsiness, or loss of attention.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your child is limp, more tired than usual, or has a weak cry.
  • Your child has redness or swelling along the path where his shunt was placed.
  • Your child has new or worse seizures.
  • Your child has a headache or nausea, or he vomits more than once.
  • Your child has vision changes.
  • Your child's head suddenly increases in size.
  • Your child has difficulty eating, swallowing, or breathing.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Spina Bifida in Children (Discharge Care)

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