The Physical Complications of Spina Bifida

Spina bifida affects sufferers in different ways mainly depending on the location and severity of the problem area. Whether the skin covers the nerves and whether the nerves protrude from the neural tunnel will play a determining role in the type of disability presented by the patient. It is however, important to note that not all persons suffering from spina bifida are mentally handicapped.

The location of the affected area will determine the location of any loss of sensation. The higher up the spine the more areas below it will suffer loss of feeling and in most cases the loss of use. With minor cases of spina bifida there may be no physical symptoms at all, except for some potential skin malformation, but the patient will not suffer any noticeable handicap.

In the most severe form of spina bifida myelomeningocele it is possible that the rear portion of the brain stem will protrude into the neck or spinal canal in a condition known as Chiari. Although rare it is seen in children with spina bifida and can result in a build-up of spinal fluid increasing the chances of developing hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. This physical problem can then lead to other complications affecting the person’s ability to learn or even comprehend.

Some of the most common physical challenges for persons with spina bifida include the loss of feeling and complete loss of use of the area of their body affected by the area. Complete paralysis is common in the more severe form of spina bifida. The lower the affected area on the spine is located the more upper body functions the affected person will have. It is not uncommon to see spina bifida patients with a need for a wheelchair while still having the use of strong arms. Additional problems associated with spina bifida can include the need for a shunt to drain excess fluid from the brain following the development of hydrocephalus. The fluid is often drained into the abdomen causing it to appear enlarged.

It is also not uncommon for persons with mild to severe cases of spina bifida to develop an allergy to latex as well as other skin rashes and gastrointestinal problems. Those with limited movement may also develop diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments often associated with their inability to exercise. Depending on their support team, persons with spina bifida also are at risk from suffering from mild to severe depression.


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