Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus
Association of Manitoba

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What is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is the incomplete formation of the spine and spinal cord that occurs during the first few weeks of pregnancy. It results in paralysis and loss of sensation of the legs, and affects the functioning of the bladder and bowel. It may also affect hand skills, visual, hearing and learning abilities.

What are the types of Spina Bifida?

  • Myelomeningocele (my-low-meh-NIN-go-seal)
The most severe form of spina bifida in which the bones fail to close around the spinal cord and the meninges (coverings of the spinal cord). The meninges and spinal cord protrude to form a sac, which also holds cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This sac is usually transparent and not covered by skin. The spinal nerves are damaged.

  • Meningocele (me-nin GO-seal)
The bones do not close around the spinal cord. The meninges are pushed out through the opening to form a sac also containing cerebrospinal fluid. The spinal cord is not pushed into the sac, it remains in the spinal column and the nerves are not as affected. The sac that is formed is usually skin covered.

  • Occulta
The mildest form of spina bifida. There is a small hole in the lower part of the spine where the bones did not properly close. The site of the defect may be marked by a dimple or tuft of hair. Many people have this condition and only become aware of it when they develop unexplained incontinence, back aches, or leg muscle changes.

  • Lipomyelomeningocele  (ly-po-my-low-meh-nin-go-seal)

The protrusion abnormal fatty tissue through a defect in the lower spine. Damage to the nerves may occur from compression of the nerves by the fatty mass due to abnormal formation of the spinal cord.


What causes Spina Bifida?
There is no single known cause of spina bifida. Currently, there are researchers studying the effects of genetics, nutrition, environment and pollution, and how they affect the developing fetus.