Spina bifida is part of a group of birth defects called neural tube defects. The neural tube is the embryonic structure that eventually develops into the baby's brain and spinal cord and the tissues that enclose them. Normally, the neural tube forms early in the pregnancy and closes by the 28th day after conception. In babies with spina bifida, a portion of the neural tube fails to develop or close properly, causing defects in the spinal cord and in the bones of the backbone.
Spina bifida occurs in three forms, each varying in severity: spina bifida occulta, meningocele and myelomeningocele. Spina bifida occulta is the mildest form and results in a small separation or gap in one or more of the bones (vertebrae) of the spine. Meningocele is a rare form in which the protective membranes around the spinal cord (meninges) push out through the opening in the vertebrae. Myelomeningocele is the most severe form in which the baby's spinal canal remains open along several vertebrae in the lower or middle back, causing the spinal cord to protrude and cause a sac on the baby’s back.
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