Neural Tube Defects
Neural tube defects are a range of malformations that occur when the brain, spinal cord, skull, and/or spine do not form normally. The most severe type of defect is called anencephaly. In this defect, part of the brain, skull, and spinal cord do not develop. Babies born with this condition die shortly after birth. An encephalocele is a defect in which a portion of the skull does not form; the severity of the defect depends on the area of the skull involved, the size, and whether brain tissue as well as the lining of the brain comes through the opening.
The other major type of neural tube defect is called spina bifida. Spina Bifida occurs when the bones of the spine, the skin, and the membranes covering an area of the spinal cord do not form properly. This can occur anywhere along the spine from the neck all the way down to the base. Most of the time, only small areas of the spinal column are involved. Typically, the function of the nerves below the level of the defect is compromised at least to some degree. This may lead to problems with muscle weakness in the legs and feet as well as problems with bowel and bladder control. In addition, because of the opening in the spinal column, spinal fluid does not circulate in a normal fashion and may increase in the brain, causing hydrocephaly. Hydrocephaly is most commonly treated with a tube called a shunt that can drain excess spinal fluid from the brain.
Once a fetus is found to have a neural tube defect, careful evaluation and development of a management plan is needed. In some cases, the spina bifida may be able to be repaired prior to birth; in many cases, however, spina bifida is best treated surgically after the infant is delivered. The UAB and Children’s Hospital of Alabama multidisciplinary team of the
UAB Fetal Diagnosis and Care Center
has long standing experience in the evaluation of fetuses with neural tube defects and works to develop the best individual treatment plan for each family.
Learn more about how the UAB Fetal Diagnosis and Care Center provides expert treatment for babies with neural tube defects.