Spina Bifida Occulta: Symptoms and Treatment

Overview

Spina Bifida Occulta (SBO) is a common malformation of one or more vertebrae. It is the mildest form of spina bifida. It occurs during a baby’s development in the mother’s womb, usually in the first month of pregnancy. With this condition, patients’ vertebrae don’t completely close, which leaves small gaps that can expose the sensitive spinal column to injury. In most cases, SBO causes no obvious symptoms.

According to the Spina Bifida Association, about 12.4% of people have spina bifida occulta.

Symptoms

Most cases of spina bifida occulta are very mild because the gaps in the bones are so small that the spinal cord is well protected and no damage occurs. However, a small number of people(about 1 in 1,000) with SBO will experience the following symptoms:

  • Back pain
  • Leg and hand weakness, numbness, or clumsiness
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction
  • Foot deformity curvature of the spine, known as scoliosis

In some cases, people can see the signs of spinal cord abnormality, as it can cause changes in the skin along the midline of the lower back. There are some visible signs:

  • A hairy patch on the skin
  • A birthmark on the skin
  • A dimple or indented patch of skin
  • A growth or pad of fat

If a person notices these signs, they should see their doctor and talk about the conditions to prevent further aggravation.

Causes

What exactly causes spina bifida is still unknown. It seems that genetic and environmental factors both play a part in it. Further studies are still ongoing.

Generally, a family history of spina bifida may contribute to a new-born child with spina bifida. Environmental risk factors for spina bifida include insufficient intake of folic acid during pregnancy, maternal health conditions like diabetes or obesity, and maternal use of certain medications early in pregnancy.

Diagnosis

People with spina bifida occulta may have very mild symptoms or none at all. If obvious signs of spina bifida occulta are noticed, doctors will do specific tests or examinations, which may include an X-ray to determine if there is a malformation of the spine, and an MRI scan to confirm whether the condition is present. In many cases, spina bifida occulta is usually an incidental finding when examining a patient for other reasons.

Treatment

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States Public Health Service (PHS) advise all women who will become pregnant to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to prevent the occurrence of spina bifida occulta.

There is no exact cure for spina bifida occulta. Treatment is unnecessary for most patients without symptoms.

When symptoms appear, they are generally treated individually. For example, pain can be managed with medications or physical therapy.

Although surgery is usually successful, the cord can re-tether over time. Therefore, the surgery may need repeating several times and follow-up care is important after surgery.


Keywords: spina bifida occulta.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.