Neural Tube Defects

Neural tube defects are birth defects that originate in the very early stages of pregnancy and pertain specifically to defects of the spine, spinal cord, or brain. Approximately 28 days from conception, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant, the embryo's spinal cord begins transitioning from a flat segment into a tube, known as the neural tube. A neural tube defect occurs when the tube does not fully close. There are several types of neural tube defects, but the most common, spina bifida (myelomeningocele) and anencephaly, are considered open neural tube defects and leave the spine or brain exposed at birth. Spina bifida occurs when the spinal cord of the fetus does not fully close, which typically leads to nerve damage and some paralysis in the legs. Spina bifida occulta is a similar condition, but it does not cause nerve damage. Anencephaly occurs when areas of the brain and skull remain undeveloped, and babies with this condition often die soon after birth or may be stillborn. Chiari is another type of defect that results in brain tissue extending into the spinal canal. When a spinal defect is covered by skin, it is part of a less common set of defects, referred to as closed neural tube defects. A tethered cord, lipomeningocele, and lipomyelomeningocele are examples of closed defects.


The Maternal-Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialists at the University of Alabama Birmingham Women & Infants Center are available on-site 24 hours a day to manage problems associated with high-risk pregnancies. Our physicians are experts at managing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, Rh sensitization, multiple births, premature delivery risk, and other potential complications. 

MFM specialists at the UAB have access to treatments that often are not yet available elsewhere, which can reduce the chance of a recurrent preterm birth by one-third to one-half. We are one of the nation’s most advanced MFM programs, as evidenced by being one of only 14 centers participating in the national Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units Network for high-risk pregnancy research. To support our research we developed Alabama’s first OB/GYN Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, which implemented the first comprehensive first-trimester screening program and the first integrated first- and second-trimester screening program for fetal abnormalities.

Patients at UAB have access to the most up-to-date care, including first-trimester diagnosis, genetic testing and counseling, and 4D-ultrasound and fetal imaging. UAB's team includes only board-certified MFM specialists as well as specialists with genetics certification. Our program also includes a personal labor nurse and three anesthesia specialists.








UAB is an active participant in research and clinical trials for neural tube defects. We encourage you to speak to your physician about research and clinical trial options and browse the link below for more information.

View Clinical Trials