Spina Bifida Cystica with Meningocele

The second type of spina bifida is called meningocele or spina bifida cystica with meningocele. In all types of spina bifida, the neural tube does not completely close during the first four weeks of pregnancy. The neural tube is the structure in the fetus that will eventually turn into the spinal cord and the vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord. If the neural tube does not fuse completely, the fetus can suffer any one of numerous defects that involve the spine.

Spina bifida cystic with meningocele is where the outer parts of the vertebral bones are split opened and the meninges (or covering of the spinal cord) protrude out through the opening. In this type of spina bifida the spinal cord remains intact and only the covering of the spinal cord protrudes out of the spine. Sometimes the protrusion is visible and sometimes it is not visible. This type of spina bifida is the least common of the three types. When the membranes poke through the hole, spinal fluid fills the membranes causing a sort of ‘cyst’. Luckily with this type of spina bifida, there is no involvement of the spinal cord (i.e. the spinal cord remains within the protective wall of the vertebral column). Because of this, damage during development is typically minimal. Individuals with this type of spina bifida will often have bladder and/or bowel problems and will sometimes have some mental problems as well as possible difficulties using their legs.

Sometimes the worst cases of spina bifida cystic with meningocele is detected in utero with ultrasound, however a doctor cannot predict how badly damaged the spinal cord is or how badly development is affected until the child is born. This type of spina bifida is outwardly visible. The child will have a blister or sac (cyst) on their back which contains spinal fluid. The sac is covered in very thin skin.

Meningocele can often be treated with surgery. By surgically removing or correcting the cyst, the cosmetic appearance of spina bifida can be eliminated, but developmental disabilities may continue to be a problem. Depending on the severity of the cyst, there can be some damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots. This damage cannot be undone, but in meningocele is almost always minor. A person who has spina bifida, no matter how severe, will need lifelong medical care and attention in order to monitor possible problems and infections during each life stage.

Dr. Prasad, a Neurotologist made an excellent video explaining what meningocele is in depth.

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