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Spina Bifida

Recognizing and Addressing Birth Defects - Illinois Birth Injury Attorney

While some children suffer harm because of injuries that occur during birth, there are some cases in which a child experiences birth defects that may have an impact on their health and quality of life. Spina bifida is one of the most common types of severe birth defects, and around 1,645 children are born with this condition every year in the United States.

What Is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida, also known as a "split spine, "open spine," or "cleft spine," occurs when the spinal column does not develop correctly while a child is in the womb, resulting in a gap or opening that causes the spinal cord to become exposed. Spina bifida most commonly occurs in the lower back, and it may take one of the following forms:

  • Spina bifida occulta - This is the mildest form of the condition, and it may go undiagnosed. The opening in the spine is covered by skin, although it may be noticeable due to a dimple or birthmark.
  • Meningocele - If the opening in the spine is large enough, the membranes around the spinal cord, which are known as the meninges, may push through that opening, forming a lump, cyst, or fluid-filled sac. This is the least common form of spina bifida, and in many cases, the lump or sac can be removed through surgery.
  • Myelomeningocele - This most severe form of the condition involves a large opening that allows both the meninges and the nerves in the spinal cord to push through. This can damage the spinal cord and expose it to infections, which can be fatal. Antibiotics can treat these infections, and surgery may be used to correct the condition, although damage to the spinal cord is often permanent.

Effects of Spina Bifida

Depending on the location and size of the opening in the spine, people with spina bifida may experience a variety of health issues, including:

  • Paralysis - Damage to the spinal cord can result in partial or complete loss of sensation and movement in the parts of the body below the level of the spine that was injured. This may affect a person's ability to walk and move, and it may result in a loss of bowel and bladder control.
  • Chiari II malformation - Spina bifida may result in the brain stem becoming elongated and the brain being positioned lower in the skull. This can lead to difficulty breathing and swallowing, and it may cause hydrocephalus, in which cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the skull and put pressure on the brain.
  • Tethered spinal cord - If the spinal cord becomes attached to the opening in the spine, this can cause the nerves in the spinal cord to stretch as a child grows, leading to nerve damage.
  • Intellectual disabilities - Damage to the brain and nervous system may lead to cognitive impairment and developmental delays that affect a person's ability to communicate and care for themselves.
  • Orthopedic issues - Weakness in leg and back muscles may cause abnormal growth and development of bones and joints. A person with spina bifida may experience a club foot, uneven hips, or curvature of the spine (scoliosis).

Spina bifida is also associated with a variety of other issues, including latex allergies, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal disorders, skin problems, and sleep disorders.

Risk Factors

Spina bifida can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. Some maternal health conditions such as obesity and diabetes have been linked to spina bifida. The risks of spina bifida also increase if the mother experiences high body temperatures early in the pregnancy, or if the mother takes certain types of medications, such as anti-seizure drugs like Depakote. The condition may also occur because of folate deficiency, and taking folic acid during pregnancy can help reduce the risks.

If a child's mother or father has a family history of neural tube disorders, the mother should be closely monitored during pregnancy. The condition may be diagnosed during a routine ultrasound, and it may be indicated by blood tests or tests of the amniotic fluid (amniocentesis).

A child with spina bifida is likely to experience serious physical or mental impairments and other health issues throughout their life. The expenses involved in caring for a child with this condition can be very high, and parents will want to be sure to understand their options for receiving financial help. If a doctor did not advise you on the proper steps to take to help prevent spina bifida, or if medical personnel did not diagnose and treat your child's condition in a timely fashion, this may be considered medical negligence. Doctors are also required to warn their patients about the risks of taking certain medications which are associated with spina bifida. At the Birth Injury Law Alliance, we can review your case and help you determine how to provide the best level of care for your child throughout their lifetime. Contact us and schedule a free consultation today at 312-945-1300.

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