Causes of Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida Causes – What Causes Spina Bifida?

Like many other birth defects, it seems that spina bifida is caused by a variety of potential factors, including genetic and environmental elements. However, the exact spina bifida causes have not yet been pinpointed, making it hard to predict who will run the risk of having a child with spina bifida and who won’t. Prenatal testing is recommended for all women, as a result, if early detection is important to them.

Prescription Drugs

There are a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications that are known to increase the risk of these birth defects. If you were prescribed a medication during your pregnancy and your child is born with one or more birth defect, you should talk to an attorney about your right to compensation.

Some of the medications that might pose a risk when taken during pregnancy include:

  • Depakote® (valproic acid)
  • Topamax® (Topiramate)
  • Celexa® (citalopram)
  • Dilantin® (phenytoin)
  • Diflucan® (fluconazole)
  • Accutane® (isotretinoin)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Lexapro® (escitalopram)
  • Paxil® (paroxetine)
  • Prozac ® (fluoxetine)
  • Symbyax® (olanzapine/fluoxetine)
  • Zoloft® (sertraline)

Genetic Factors

Although there has not yet been a specific gene linked to the development of spina bifida, it seems that it is a disorder that does tend to run in families. There are mixed patterns of inheritance, however. If one family member has spina bifida, there seems to be an increase in the chances that another will as well. Yet in most cases, an estimated 95% of all cases of spina bifida, there is no genetic history in the family of any spinal cord or neural tube defects, making it difficult to predict genetically.

Environmental Factors

In other cases, certain substances or lifestyle factors have been linked to the development of spina bifida. These may not be specific spina bifida causes, but rather may contribute to the child’s chances of contracting this disease.

Spina Bifida and Folic Acid

A deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy has been linked to spina bifida. Occurring naturally in foods such as broccoli and brown rice, folic acid or folate is a vitamin that can also be used to fortify food, such as breakfast cereal. Although the exact relation between spina bifida and folic acid is unknown at this time, one hypothesis is that it impacts how cells and neural tissue are formed in the embryo. Experts estimate that by taking folic acid supplements before conception and during the early months of pregnancy can help prevent 70% of neural tube defects, including spina bifida.

Another factor that may be important to take into consideration is that some studies have shown that people who have spina bifida are unable to metabolize folic acid correctly. This has the implication that it may be a defect in folic acid metabolism, instead of a deficiency in folate, that is the underlying cause of spina bifida.

Medications Linked to Spina Bifida

Certain prescription medications have been linked to the development of spina bifida in an embryo, as well as other similar birth defects. These include:

  • Carbamazepine
  • Lamotrigine
  • Valproate

These are primarily epilepsy medications, although they may also be used to treat bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. It’s highly recommended to speak to your doctor if you are trying to conceive and are taking any of these medications, as there may be alternatives with a much lower risk to the fetus.

Other Risk Factors for Spina Bifida

Although the following are not necessary spina bifida causes, they are other risk factors that have been associated medically with the appearance of spina bifida in newborns.

  • Spina Bifida in Previous Pregnancy – There is an estimated 1 in 20 chance that if you already have a child with spina bifida, then other children that you have will also be diagnosed with this conditions.
  • Diabetes – Women who suffer from diabetes, which is a medical condition impacting how the body is able to regulate glucose or sugar in the blood, may have a higher risk of giving birth to a child with spina bifida. It’s theorized that this has something to do with the excessive amounts of blood sugar, and whether or not they may impact the embryonic development.
  • Obesity – The definition of obesity is having a body mass index of 30 or higher. Women who meet this level also have an increased risk of giving birth to a child that will be diagnosed with spina bifida. This risk increases with BMI. Those who have a BMI over 40 have a much higher chance of conceiving a child with spina bifida than those who are at a healthy weight level.


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