As the number one disabling birth defect in Canada, spina bifida affects one out of every 1200 children born. It is classified as a neural tube defect (NTD) and occurs during the first four weeks of pregnancy. Spina bifida is the incomplete development of the nervous system and spinal cord, and results in varying degrees of permanent paralysis, loss of sensation, and bladder and bowel dysfuntion. in some cases, it can also limit hand function, vision, hearing and learning abilities. Spina bifida affects each individual differently, but is generally classified as the following:

Occulta , which means “hidden”, is the mildest form of spina bifida. A defect exists where one or more vertebrae are not properly closed, but there is no protruding sac or protrusion of the spinal cord.






Myelomeningocele (or meningomyelocele) is the most severe and most common form of spina bifida in which the spinal cord and the meninges (covering of the spinal cord) protrude from an opening in the spine to form a sac (cele) which contains cerebrospinal fluid. This sac is usually not covered by the skin and is transparent.




Meningocele is considered a less severe and more rare form of spina bifida. The meninges are pushed out through an opening in the spine to form a sac containing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is often covered by skin. However the spinal cord does not leave the protective bone tube, and the nerves are not severely affected.



Lipomyelomeningocele is an abnormal fat accumulation that starts below the skin and extends through an opening in the spine to the spinal cord. The skin covered lesion created is found in the buttock or lower spine area, and is usually not painful. Common symptoms found in lipomyelomeningocele spina bifida are muscle weakness of the legs or gait disturbance, deformities of the feet, back pain, sensation lost in areas in the lower leg and foot, and urinary or fecal incontinence.

Many factors come into play when spina bifida is forming. It is believed that genetics, diet before and during the pregnancy, and environment are all important in the development of the baby. There is not just one factor alone that is responsible, but a combination of these (and other unknown factors) that contribute to spina bifida occurring.

Although researchers are working hard to find the cause(s) of spina bifida, at this time there is no cure .

Spina bifida medical pictures taken from The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network.