What is Spina Bifida (Myelomeningocele)?
When there is spina bifida, it means that the spinal cord has not formed properly.
There are different types of spina bifida. A myelomeningocele is the most severe.
In this form, the bones of the spine (vertebrae) and the skin that surrounds the spinal cord are not
completely closed. Part of the spinal cord and the nerves come through the opening in the back.
At birth, the baby may have a sac on the back at the site of the spinal defect. The baby will need
surgery soon after birth to close the sac. Depending on the location of the spinal defect, spina
bifida children will have some problems with their legs, bladder and bowel control. Leg
problems range from weakness in the legs to complete loss of movement.
ξ Hydrocephalus (increased fluid in the brain) occurs in 95% of children with spina bifida
ξ Kidney, bladder and/or bowel control problems, and bladder infections
ξ Decreased movement and lack of feeling to pain, touch, and temperature in areas below
the level of the myelomeningocele
ξ Foot and leg deformities
ξ Scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
ξ Skin breakdown because of lack of feeling
ξ Chiari malformation (problem with the brain that can cause hand weakness, swallowing
and speech problems, and often breathing problems). Almost all spina bifida patients
have Chiari malformation, but only a few of them will need surgery.
ξ Latex allergy (sensitive to rubber products)
The child with spina bifida should be followed closely by a team of practitioners. This team
ξ Nurses who coordinate care and help you to access resources and provide patient/family
ξ Neurosurgeon who specializes in the brain and spinal cord (myelomeningocele,
ξ Urologist who specializes in kidney and bladder function and infections
ξ Orthopedic Surgeon who specializes in leg deformities and scoliosis
ξ Therapists and Rehabilitation Specialists who help with movement, exercise, and
adapting to routine daily activity
ξ Psychologist who specializes in social, education, and interactive concerns.
All of these practitioners are often seen on the same day at the Spina Bifida Clinic at UW
Hospital. To schedule an appointment, please call the AFCH Pediatric Specialty Clinics at
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 3/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5336