Three Main Levels of Spina Bifida
There are three main degrees of severity within the congenital condition of Spina Bifida: Spina Bifida Occulta, Meningocele, and Myelomeningocele.
1. Spina Bifida Occulta, or hidden Spina Bifida, is when the vertebrae of the spine do not close before birth, but the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and the spinal cord itself stay within the spinal column rather than protruding through the opening. Skin covers this defect, so it remains hidden and usually will not yield the side effects of the more severe types of Spina Bifida.
2. Meningocele is the middle of the road in terms of severity. The meninges, or membranes surrounding the spinal cord, poke out of the opening in the vertebrae and create a sac, usually filled with fluid. Meningocele patients may experience a few to no symptoms, and the condition may be correctable with surgery.
3. Myelomeningocele is the most common and most severe form of Spina Bifida. In patients with this form of Spina Bifida, the spinal cord joins the meninges in protruding through the opening in the vertebrae. This can cause serious problems due to damage to the nervous system’s main highway (spinal cord).
Within each of these three forms, there are varying degrees of severity as well. Symptoms can extend from very minor physical problems to severe disabilities, both physical and mental.
Reasons for Varying Severity within Each Form
There are several individual considerations that can affect how severe the symptoms are in each case of Spina Bifida.
1. One of the most impactful elements of the condition is the placement of the opening in the vertebrae. The proximity to the brain and the part of the spinal cord affected can make a form of Spina Bifida more or less severe with regard to symptoms.
2. Another item that can affect the degree of severity in Spina Bifida is the development of related conditions. Patients with Spina Bifida are at a greater risk for Hydrocephalus, Meningitis, Chiari II malformation, latex allergies, learning disabilities, skin problems, gastrointestinal difficulties, and depression. With each of these related conditions, additional symptoms add to the severity of the condition.
3. With Meningocele and Myelomeningocele, the sac that protrudes from the back on the spinal column may or may not be covered with skin. If a protective layer of skin is not present, the patient is at a much greater risk for infection. Infections can cause added symptoms and may exacerbate the existing symptoms.
4. Severity may also be influenced by when the condition is diagnosed and speed with which treatment is implemented. There is no cure for this congenital condition, but some cases are diagnosed while the baby is in the womb. Surgeries are now being performed prenatally to try to prevent damage occurring to the nervous system.