Spina Bifida Life Expectancy – Outlook and Complications
With new advances in medical technology and breakthroughs in surgical procedures, the outcome for children born with spina bifida is now much more promising than it used to be. The majority of those diagnosed with neural tube disorders will make it well into adulthood, which was not necessarily the case in the past.
Symptoms of Spina Bifida
To learn more about why life expectancy might be lower in children with spina bifida, it’s important to first take a look at what the most serious symptoms are. Some of these simply affect mobility, such as paralysis, while others could lead to potential fatality, such as the increased chance of infections.
- Loss of sensation in skin
- Paralysis of lower limbs
- Hydrocephalus or water on the brain
- Nerve damage
- Infections, including encephalitis or meningitis
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction
Spina bifida can also increase the chance of other related complications, including obesity, diabetes, learning disabilities, and a serious allergy to latex. All of these complications can also have an effect on life expectancy.
Myths about Spina Bifida Life Expectancy
Perhaps because there is such a wide range of possibility when it comes to spina bifida and the potential symptoms, myths about life expectancy and other complications of this disorder are quite common. The following are some of the most commonly held myths.
- Spina bifida is always linked to brain damage or retardation – although it’s possible for a secondary infection such as meningitis to impact a child’s brain, most children with spina bifida have a normal IQ. However, they may be more prone to learning disabilities.
- If a baby is born with spina bifida, he or she will not live through their childhood – with the absence of other birth defects, a child with spina bifida has a 70% chance of living to early adulthood at the very least.
- If a child has hydrocephalus as well as spina bifida, the outcome will be worse – children with hydrocephalus may require different or more extensive treatment. This could include a shunt to drain the excess fluid from the brain, but it has no bearing on mortality rates.
Life Expectancy Statistics
The statistics have rapidly changed in the past few years as medical technology has advanced. According to a study published in 2001, at least 75% of those children who were born with an advanced version of spina bifida lived until early adulthood, and many more continued for decades after that. However, they required ongoing supportive care into their adult years in order to thrive. Generally, medical professionals state that about 90% of individuals with spina bifida will live past their third decade of life.
Treatment Options to Improve Outlook
With the right care, a child born with spina bifida can go on to live a long and productive life. This will depend greatly on the severity at birth, but even those with the most severe forms of myelomeningocele can thrive with surgery and physical therapy. The following are a few of the top treatment options that can help prevent complications and increase life expectancy.
- Antibiotics – right from the beginning, it’s important to help prevent any infections in the exposed spinal cord. This can help prevent life-threatening diseases such as meningitis.
- Shunts – if the child is suffering from hydrocephalus, it’s important to find a way to drain that excessive fluid. A shunt can be placed that will drain this away, reducing the chances of mental problems or infection.
- Surgery – most children who suffer from either meningocele or myelomeningocele will require surgery during the first few days of life. With proper care, the gap in the vertebrae can be fused back together. This can restore nerve function and prevent any further damage, improving life expectancy rates greatly. With new technology allowing prenatal surgery, it’s even possible to reduce the chances of complications more effectively than ever before.