Children's Hospital Colorado

Spina Bifida

What is spina bifida?

The spinal cord's main function is to send messages to and from your brain – messages to your brain concerning the temperature of your body, pain and touch, as well as messages from your brain controlling bodily movements and other functions.

Spina bifida literally means "split spine." In babies born with spina bifida, the spine never completely wraps around the spinal cord, leaving an opening in the spine. Because of the opening in the spine, the nerves of the spinal cord may be damaged. A spinal cord that's damaged may not be able to do the important job of getting messages to and from the brain.

What are the types of spina bifida?

There are three types of spina bifida: spina bifida occulta, meningocele and myelomeningocele. These types of spina bifida range in severity from completely harmless and undetectable until an X-ray is performed later in life, to the spinal cord protruding uncovered from the back. Your team of specialists at Children's Hospital Colorado will work together to individualize testing and treatment for your child.

What causes spina bifida and can it be prevented?

Although spina bifida is one of the most common forms of birth defects, there is no known cause for it. However, researchers have found possible links to its causes.

One of those links is in pregnant mothers who have a folic acid deficiency. Because the abnormal growth that leads to myelomeningocle begins during the first trimester, it is recommended that women looking to become pregnant begin taking a folic acid supplement as soon as possible. Mothers who are already pregnant should start taking a folic acid supplement as soon as they find out they are pregnant. Folic acid is also known as folate, folacin and vitamin B.

A second link specific to mylemeningocele is found in siblings of affected children. A mother who has had one baby with myelomeningocele has a 3% chance of giving birth to another child with mylemeningocele. The risk is higher if she has had more than one previous baby born with myelomeningocele.

Even though researchers have discovered links in causes for spina bifida, there is not definitive evidence.

Get to know our pediatric experts.

Cailin Brazeau, PA-C

Cailin Brazeau, PA-C

Physician Assistant

Nathan Donaldson, DO

Nathan Donaldson, DO

Orthopaedic Surgery

Allana Lenz, PA-C, MMSc

Allana Lenz, PA-C, MMSc

Physician Assistant

Brian Shaw, MD

Brian Shaw, MD

Orthopaedic Surgery

Children's Colorado in the news

FOX21 Colorado Springs

Colorado doctors perform surgery to treat patients with spina bifida

May 21, 2019

Peyton had surgery before she was even born. After being diagnosed in the womb with spina bifida, a rare debilitating spinal condition, Ken Liechty, MD, performed an important procedure that would change her life.