Spina bifida and pregnancy: what you need to know

Spina bifida and pregnancy: what you need to know

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Depending on its form, spina bifida may be benign or have more or less significant consequences on the development of the future baby. Even if there are treatments, prevention is better than cure: it suffices to consume enough vitamin B9 to drastically reduce the risk of spina bifida ...

The different forms of spina bifida and their treatments

  • Spina bifida is a malformation of the embryonic neural tube which subsequently evolves to form the brain and spinal cord. In the case of spina bifida, the neural tube does not close properly. This results in a malformation of the spine more or less severe.
  • The lightest form of spina bifida is called "spina bifida occulta" or "spina bifida closed": the back part of one or more vertebrae is not welded. Most of the time, this form is benign and does not trigger any symptoms in children: treatment is rarely necessary.
  • "Spina bifida aperta" or "spina bifida open", however, can have more serious consequences. In practice, a kind of pocket is formed at the level of the spine. If it contains only cerebrospinal fluid, it is called meningocele. If it also contains a part of the meninges and nerves, it is called myelomeningocele: it is the most serious form, which can cause many disorders such as hydrocephalus, intellectual retardation or paralysis. It is often diagnosed through control ultrasound; the medical team can then propose a termination of pregnancy. When a baby is born with a severe form of spina bifida, emergency surgery reduces complications. However, the child will probably need a treatment for life.

Spina bifida: risk factors and prevention

  • The exact mechanisms of spina bifida are not yet known, but several risk factors have been discovered. Among them are genetic factors (the risks are increased if there are cases of spina bifida in the immediate family), the taking of certain antiepileptic drugs, alcoholism, obesity, poorly balanced diabetes and the deficiency in vitamin B9 (or folic acid).
  • The latter has a particularly important influence: consuming enough folic acid (folate) greatly limits the risk of neural tube defects, including in women with another risk factor for spina bifida.
  • In practice, to prevent spina bifida, it is recommended to treat your vitamin B9 intake as soon as you plan to become pregnant. Ideally, at least 0.4 mg of vitamin B9 should be consumed daily until the twelfth week of at least amenorrhea. The doctor may prescribe supplementation, but you can also consume a lot of foods rich in vitamin B9: green and leafy vegetables (spinach, lamb's lettuce, leeks, etc.), eggs, nuts, yeast, cereals breakfast enriched with vitamins B ...
  • To note : if you are among "at risk" women, in the case of genetic predisposition, for example, your doctor will prescribe a supplement of 5 mg per day.