Other Possible Causes of Spina Bifida
Other than the genetic propensity and factors such as prescription drug intake, there are other potential causes and risks for a child to be born with spina bifida. Anything in the environment that has the potential to interfere with early development of the fetus comprises a higher risk for birth defects such as neural tube defects.
A study on babies, mothers and fathers of spina bifida babies from 1979 – 1980 in Antioch – Pittsburg, California looked at specific factors such as the type of residence, occupation of the parents, drug use, illnesses during pregnancy, pesticide exposure, chemical exposure and presence of tobacco smoke. In this study the main environmental link to spina bifida was the presence of second hand smoke.
Chemical and environmental toxins that interfere with metabolism and development can also increase the risk for spina bifida. Exposure to chemicals such as thalidomide, aminopterin, and valproic acid are also possible risks to the baby. One can also imagine that excessive stress during the first trimester can also affect the mother’s internal environment enough to cause problems with the fetus.
Scientists speculate that viral infections can cause an increased risk of spina bifida. If a mother has a fever in the first two months of pregnancy (usually caused by either a viral or bacterial infection), even only by 3-4 degrees, is probably what causes this increase in risk. It is important to note that even the use of hot tubs or a sauna during the first couple months of pregnancy may be enough to increase the risk of spina bifida in the fetus.
In light of the recent study that links genes involved in glucose metabolism with spina bifida, it is not surprising that pregnant women who have diabetes are also at much higher risk of having children with neural tube defects. A diabetic’s inability to metabolize glucose properly could point to a connection with that metabolic link in the body. Women who are obese are also much more likely to have children with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. This, also, is not surprising since obesity can sometimes result from Metabolic Syndrome, a disease characterized by a defect in either insulin production or the body’s inability to use insulin properly. Definitive genetic links have yet to be discovered in these two populations of pregnant women, although scientists are closing in on more specific risk factors.