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Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)

Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain and spinal cord.  The most common neural tube defects are:

1) Spina bifida. In spina bifida, the tube that forms the spinal cord and spine does not close properly, causing damage to the developing spinal cord. People with spina bifida have paralysis of the nerves below the affected area of the spine. This may cause difficulty walking or make them unable to walk without help. They may also have problems related to increased pressure in the brain and to lack of bladder and bowel control. In some babies born with spina bifida, the problems are severe enough to result in death.

2) Anencephaly. Anencephaly is a more serious neural tube defect. In this condition, much of the brain does not develop. Babies with anencephaly are either stillborn or die shortly after birth.

Is there a way to prevent neural tube defects?

Research has shown that getting enough folic acid before and during pregnancy can prevent most neural tube defects.

The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) recommends that all women of childbearing age, who are capable of becoming pregnant, get 400 micrograms of folic acid each day.

The neural tube develops in the first four weeks of pregnancy, often before many women even know they are pregnant. For this reason, folic acid is recommended to all women of childbearing age, even those not trying to get pregnant.

What are the treatments for neural tube defects?

Treatments vary depending on the type of neural tube defect. For instance, some mild versions of spina bifida need minimal treatment, but other forms require surgery to correct the problems.

Physical therapy may also be needed to help the child learn to walk with or without assistive devices, such as leg braces.