Spina Bifida Causes
What are the risk factors?
Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that encompasses many risk factors and potential causal factors. Because of this, it is considered a very heterogeneous disease. Scientists are not sure of the exact cause of spina bifida, although they are getting a better idea of what a pregnant woman should not do and what she should avoid, especially during the first trimester of the pregnancy.
Unavoidable risk factors include a family history of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. This includes both a history of having a previous child with spina bifida and also a history of one or both parents having spina bifida. Discussion with a genetic counselor is important in order to make an informed decision about future pregnancies.
Here is a video that explains Prenatal Genetic Testing
Environment, chemical and pharmaceutical risks
Environmental, chemical and pharmaceutical concerns are typically preventable. In general, one should stay away from toxins that are known to be detrimental to the development to the fetus. Thalidomide was a huge problem a few decades ago. It was prescribed to women as a safe sedative, even during pregnancy until a rash of birth defects, including spina bifida, resulted in women who routinely took the drug. It is also used to treat multiple myeloma. These days, thalidomide is a drug of last resort and is never prescribed for pregnant women.
FDA Warns how certain drugs like Depakote and other antidepressants or antiepileptic drugs can cause Spina Bifida
Women who have medical conditions such as diabetes, depression, seizures or obesity are at much higher risk for having a baby with a neural tube defect. In some cases, the cause is the woman’s inability to deal with glucose or folate metabolism. In other cases, the medication used to treat these diseases is at fault. High body temperatures due to fever or other activities can interfere with early development.
Medications that are routinely used to treat depression such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are known to increase the risk of neural tube defects in fetuses if taken in the first trimester. The mechanism of this risk is not currently known. Anti-convulsants are also culprits in increasing the risk. There are currently no good alternatives to these treatments of organic illness, so a pregnant woman must make a decision on whether to discontinue use of these medications during the first trimester based on risks and benefits.
Scientists are closing in on particular gene groups that seem to be responsible for spina bifida. In specific, there are various genes that are involved in folate metabolism that seem to be linked to this defect. Oddly, another set of genes that are involved in glucose metabolism are also linked to neural tube defects. Hopefully a full picture of what is happening in these developmental defects is forthcoming