Spina Bifida Complications & Levels of Severity

Complications of Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a birth defect that has various levels of severity from undetectable to severe paralysis. In the mild form of spina bifida, spina bifida occulta, there is very little, if any, spinal cord involvement and so there are very few physical ramifications. At times, there may be some numbness of the lower extremities and occasional incontinence, but there is generally no paralysis. One odd complication of all types of spina bifida is a latex allergy. This is likely not due to any direct result of the birth defect, per se, but is likely due to the fact that spina bifida patients are constantly exposed to latex in a variety of ways because they need constant monitoring and care by medical professionals.

Dr. Gupta, Chief Pediatric of Neurosurgery talks about Primary and Secondary Problems of Spina Bifida

Complications in moderate and severe forms

The more moderate and severe forms of spina bifida, however, can result in many complications that are physically apparent. Every spina bifida patient has either a dimple or a protrusion somewhere along their spine. Most patients have a major protrusion with either spinal fluid or with the spinal cord itself sticking out of the body at the level of the vertebral cleft. Most spina bifida patients do not have control of their bowel or bladder and have either incontinence or constipation. Almost all patients with spina bifida also have some sort of weakness or paralysis in their legs. At times, spina bifida babies will be born with a club foot.

Extreme form spina bifida complications

Spina bifida in its most extreme form (myelomeningocele) often results in hip dislocation and spinal deformities. This occurs because the innervations from the spine is disrupted and is not even on both sides. In addition, many patients suffer from obesity because they have much lower muscle density in their lower extremities. Patients who are compromised in the lower body tend to also have lower bone density because of the lack of weight-bearing. The result of this is an increase in bone fractures in the lower extremities. These patients also suffer from pressure sores and skin irritation due to the fact that they are not ambulatory.

For those patients who have needed a shunt in their head in order to displace spinal fluid into the abdomen, doctors must constantly monitor them for displacement of their shunt. Eye movement abnormalities are also quite common due to the compression of the hindbrain when the brain slides down into the spinal column. Scarring of the spinal cord can also lead to tethering of the spinal cord and cause a person with weakness or paralysis to experience even further problems and pain.

Dr. Spong discusses myelomeningocele and their research and findings.


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