AboutPhysiatryBanner

About Physiatry

Myelomeningocele (Spina Bifida)

Condition: Myelomeningocele (MM) is a type birth defect where the spine does not close all the way before birth. It is the most severe type of spina bifida.  

Background: Only about two of every 10,000 newborns have MM. Tests done during pregnancy can diagnose it before birth.

Risk Factors: Not having enough of a vitamin called folic acid can lead to MM. Obesity, diabetes, hyperthermia, and some medications also increase the risk. If one baby in a family has been born with MM, later babies are at higher risk. 

History and Symptoms: In babies with MM, a sac may stick out of the back where the spine did not close. There can also be extra fluid in the brain. These defects can cause problems with bladder and bowel control, numbness, weakness, and even paralysis.      

Physical Exam: The doctor will check the baby’s eyes, muscle strength, reflexes, and ability to feel things like a pinprick. As the child grows, the doctor will keep close watch on head size, growth, bladder and bowel function, movement, thinking, behavior, mood, and social function. 

Diagnostic Process: Blood tests are used to see if the kidneys are working. X-rays, ultrasound, CT and MRI of the spine and brain may be done to get a better idea of how severe the defect is. Other tests may be needed to see how the urinary tract is working.     

Rehab Management: Surgery is often done in the first few days after birth. If a child has fluid in the brain, a tube may be placed from the skull to the abdomen to drain the fluid away. Many types of therapy may be needed to help the child with walking, school, and social activities.        

Other Resources for Patients and Families: Families may get help from social workers and from the Spina Bifida Association.   

For Patients and Families:

View all Conditions & Treatments
Learn more about Physiatry

Find a Physician

Physicians:

Read the full PM&R Knowledge NOW® article at:

PM&R Knowledge NOW® Authors Needed

Participate in the development of PM&R Knowledge NOW® by applying to be an author of a 1,700-word summary of a clinical topic.

View a list of available topics and learn more about how to apply. Volunteering your time and expertise to is a great way to get published and recognized among your peers as a participant in this ground-breaking initiative!