The very early stages of a baby’s life consist of cells that form a a disc shape. Between the 15th and 28th day, this disc folds upward and joins together. The cells are now what is called the neural tube, which will later become the spinal cord, spine, and brain.
If anywhere along the fold it does not close properly, a neural tube defect (NTD) will result. If the defect is in the upper end, then Anencephaly occurs. This results in the brain being underdeveloped and the child does not survive. If the NTD occurs in the lower end, it is classified as Spina Bifida. There are three main types of Spina Bifida.
Occulta, the mildest form, results in a small gap in one or more of the vertebrae of the spine. In many cases, there is no nerve damage. In other cases, subtle, progressive, neurologic deterioration may develop later in life.
Meningocele, is the rarest of these three, in which the meninges (the protective membrane covering the spinal cord) protrudes through an opening in the spine. The defect can be repaired surgically and usually does not result in paralysis because it does not involve the spinal cord itself. However, affected children may still develop hydrocephalus (a buildup of fluid on the brain) and bowel/bladder problems.
Myelomeningocele is the most severe form, where the spinal cord and meninges protrude from a spinal opening. surgery is usually performed within 24 hours of birth to put the exposed nerves and cord back into the spinal canal and prevent further damage. However, the nerve damage that has occurred is permanent. Issues associated with this type of Spina Bifida include paralysis, orthopedic issues, hydrocephalus, bowel/bladder problems, and learning disabilities.