Similarities and Differences
Meningocele and Myelomeningocele are both forms of Spina Bifida Manifesta, meaning they have physical manifestations and will have obvious symptoms if not treated. Meningocele is the less serious condition of the two. In this form of Spina Bifida, the meninges or membranes are poking through the characteristic hole in the vertebrae. This also happens in Myelomeningocele. In Meningocele, just the membranes extend through, while in Myelomeningocele, the spinal cord also pushes through the hole within the sac that the meninges makes by extending through the opening.
Different Symptoms for Each Type
The severity of the symptoms for both types depends on the placement on the spinal column of the protrusion of the meninges through the vertebrae. However, Meningocele is generally less severe than Myelomeningocele. In fact, children with Meningocele may not show very many symptoms at all. The most common symptoms are urinary or bowel complications or incomplete paralysis. Myelomeningocele patients usually also develop Hydrocephalus, as well as the most severe Spina Bifida disabilities, some of which are lower body paralysis, problems with bladder and bowel control, and numbness.
Indications of Possible Meningocele or Myelomeningocele
Both conditions can be very visible in a protruding sac on the spine at birth or seen in an ultrasound. However, the signs may be less noticeable such as birthmarks, skin discoloration, or extra hair or fatty tissue at a spot along the spinal column. Certainly, any symptoms, such as paralysis, should be looked at as potential warning signs.
The surgery to correct the two conditions is pretty much the same, but surgery to fix a Meningocele protrusion is approach in a less urgent way than the surgery for a Myelomeningocele. This is because the effects on the nervous system of a Myelomeningocele are usually immediately apparent and more severe. With Myelomeningocele, surgery will usually be performed within one to two days after birth. The physician should keep routine measurements of the head, watching for signs of Hydrocephalus. Other surgeries may be necessary to correct problems with issues arising from damage to the nervous system.
A Meningocele sac is only considered urgent if the sac is not covered by skin. The risk of infection makes surgery treatment to push the sac through the hole and close the opening a higher priority than a Meningocele which is covered by skin.
After corrective surgery, patients are normally scheduled for therapies, medical follow-up care, and possible future surgeries. The lack of a cure for both types of Spina Bifida makes it necessary to maintain care for potential damage to the spinal cord and nervous system.