Diagnosing Spina Bifida

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 12,633
    Scott Price, President of Spina Bifida Foundation, discusses how spina bifida is diagnosed.

    Scott Price: Hello! I am Scott Price, President of the Spina Bifida Foundation. I serve as a National Advocate for spina bifida related issues and I am also the proud father of an adult son, who lives with spina bifida.

    There are different types of spina bifida. The most benign version is Spina Bifida Occulta, often called hidden spina bifida. Because about 15 %, of healthy people have it and don't know it. Spina bifida occulta does not cause harm, there are no signs and the spinal cord and nerves are undamaged. Often people discover that they have it when they are having an x-ray or MRI of their spine.

    The second type of spina bifida is the Meningocele. Here, the spina bifida causes part of the spinal cord to come through the spine like a small sac, that's been pushed out. The sac contains spinal fluid. But the nerves are usually not damaged. And thus individuals with this form of spina bifida tend to experience more minor disabilities.

    The third and most severe form of spina bifida is a Myelomeningocele. This occurs when parts of the spinal cord and nerves actually protrude out of the spine. They are not protected by a sac. This generally results in significant nerve damage and paralysis.

    There are three test that can be used to diagnose spina bifida before birth. The first is a blood test. Between the 16th and 18th week of pregnancy, which measures the levels of alpha-fetoprotein in the blood. A woman caring a child with spina bifida will have higher alpha-fetoprotein test results in about 75% to 80% of cases. The second method is an Ultrasound which is now technically sophisticated enough to show spinal defects.

    The final method of testing is Maternal Amniocentesis. Here a small amount of fluid is removed from the wound and the protein levels are tested. We need to remember no medical test is a 100% perfect and these test result while helpful are not always conclusive.

    In the next segment we'll consider, how spina bifida is treated.