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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.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that your child may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your child's medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done to your child. Make sure all of your questions are answered.


  • Antiseizure medicine helps control and prevent seizures.
  • Anticholinergics help your child urinate.
  • Antibiotics may be given to treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.


  • Head circumference is measured to find out if your child has swelling in his brain. Your child's healthcare provider will measure around your child's head with a tape measure.
  • neurological exam A is a series of simple tests that may show if spina bifida has affected your child's brain. Healthcare providers will check how well your child's pupils react to light. They may also test his hand grasp and reflexes.
  • Intracranial pressure monitoring is a procedure that is done if healthcare providers think your child has increased pressure on his brain. Healthcare providers will place a small tube inside your child's skull to measure the pressure on his brain. The tube is connected to a monitor.


  • Blood and urine tests are used to monitor your child's kidneys, and to check for infection.
  • Bladder tests will help show how well your child can control his urination. Your child's healthcare provider will use an x-ray machine to take pictures of your child's bladder. Your child may be given contrast dye to help the pictures show up better on the screen.
  • Ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your child's bladder on a monitor.
  • CT scan is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine will use a computer to take pictures of your child's spine and skull. Your child may be given contrast dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • MRI is a scan that uses a powerful magnet and computer to take pictures of the inside of your child's spine and skull. Your child may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you or your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his body.


  • Spinal surgery may be done to close or place his spinal cord back inside his vertebrae. Surgery will most likely happen within a day of your child's birth. Your child may also need other surgeries to repair deformed body parts, such as a club foot or severe spinal curves. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions about surgery for your child.
  • Ventricular shunting is surgery to place a shunt inside his brain. A shunt is a tube used to prevent spinal fluid buildup inside the skull. The shunt will run from his brain down to his abdomen.


  • Your child may be at risk for infection after surgery to treat spina bifida. Surgery may cause numbness or loss of feeling in his arms or legs. The ventricular shunt may increase your child's risk of infection. The shunt could fail, and he may need another surgery to have it replaced.
  • Spina bifida that is not treated may cause deformed bones and muscles. Your child may have long-term pain, weakness, or loss of movement in his legs, even with treatment. He may also have a curved spine or bone weakness. Your child may develop a severe latex allergy or breathing problems. He may develop hydrocephalus, even with treatment. This is an increase in brain pressure from fluid buildup in your child's skull. Spina bifida may also cause permanent bowel and bladder problems, or organ damage, such as kidney failure. These conditions may be life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child.

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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 (Inpatient Care)

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