Spina bifida is the most frequently occurring, permanently disabling birth defect, affecting one in every 1,000 newborns in the United States.
Spina bifida results from the failure of the spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy.
Recent studies have shown that taking 400 micrograms a day of the B-vitamin folic acid before conception and during the first few weeks of pregnancy may help reduce the risk of spina bifida for all women. For women at risk (family history) of spina bifida or other neural tube defects, research has shown that 4,000 micrograms of folic acid a day reduces the risk. Though taking folic acid does not guarantee having a healthy baby, studies show that if all women who become pregnant were to take a multivitamin with folic acid, the risk of neural tube defects (spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocele) could be reduced by up to 75 percent. Neural tube defects are birth defects that involve the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord and-or protective coverings for these organs.
Because of paralysis resulting from damage to the spinal cord, people born with spina bifida may need surgeries and other extensive medical care. The condition can also cause incontinence. A large percentage of spina bifida babies have hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
Ninety percent to 95 percent of spina bifida babies are born to parents with no family history of spina bifida.
If parents have one child with spina bifida, the risk of recurrence increases to between one and five out of 100. If one parent has spina bifida, the chances of having a child with the condition are between 1 percent and 5 percent. If both parents have spina bifida, the chances of having a child with spina bifida increases to 15 percent.
Sources: Spina Bifida Association of America,Vanderbilt University Medical Center