Spina Bifida is the name given to a series of birth defects that affect the neural tube, the structure in the developing fetus that develops into the spinal cord and brain. Meaning, literally, "split spine", this neural tube defect (NTD) occurs within the first four weeks of pregnancy. The vertebrae, spinal cord, or both fail to develop properly in the fetus, resulting in varying degrees of damage to the spinal cord and nervous system. The damage is permanent.
There is no single known cause of Spina Bifida. Research continues into the effects of factors such as heredity, nutrition, environment, pollution and physical damage to the embryo.
Hydrocephalus is the excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain, caused by failure of normal circulation, absorption, or both. This results in compression of the brain, and possibly enlargement of the head. Hydrocephalus is usually controlled by surgically implanting a flexible tube called a shunt into the cavities of the brain. The shunt controls the flow of fluid and drains it into another region of the body to be reabsorbed. This reduces the pressure on the brain that could, without treatment, result in permanent brain damage or death.
Hydrocephalus can be caused by a variety of medical problems. It can be present at birth or acquired at any time during a person's life as a result of a brain hemorrhage, meningitis, head injury, tumors, or an unknown cause.
Eighty to ninety percent of children born with Spina Bifida also have hydrocephalus, so teachers will frequently be looking at the effects of both conditions.
Infants born with Spina Bifida sometimes have an open lesion on their spine where significant damage to the nerves and spinal cord occurs. Although the spinal opening is surgically repaired shortly after birth, the nerve damage is permanent. As a result, people with Spina Bifida will experience varying degrees of paralysis in the lower body, depending largely on the location and severity of the lesion. Even with no visible lesion, they may have improperly formed or missing vertebrae and accompanying nerve damage. This nerve damage results in a reduced or absent sensation and may cause people with the condition to experience lower limb paralysis, fine motor impairment, incontinence of the bladder or bowels, or all of these.
For individuals with hydrocephalus, the high pressure experienced by the brain can result in lasting effects, both short and long term. These may include impaired vision, headaches, sensitivity to changes in external pressure, heaping sensitivity, muscle weakness, hormonal imbalances, or seizures.
In addition to physical and mobility difficulties, many individuals with Spina Bifida and/or hydrocephalus may have some form of learning disability. This means that they may have learning problems in school, in spite of having average or above-average intelligence. These individuals may also have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and/or developmental delay.
For further information, contact SBHAC's website