Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that is formed in the womb before a baby is born. There are several degrees of severity of spina bifida with the least severe often going unnoticed in those who have it. The most severe forms however can be debilitating to the afflicted person. Most spina bifida cases are discovered while the baby is still growing in the womb either by blood testing, ultrasound or amniocentesis.
Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) occur in the spine and brain areas and stop areas of the spine or brain from fusing properly. Another notable NTD is anencephaly. This is a much more serious neural tube defect as it means that part of the brain is missing and more often than not the foetus will not survive birth and it may be advised to terminate the pregnancy if it is found early enough.
The occurrence of spina bifida and other neural tube defects can be much reduced (by up to 70%) if the mother takes folic acid supplements in the early part of the pregnancy. The defects are formed in the early part of the pregnancy (usually in week 3 and 4, i.e. before 30 days into the pregnancy) so it is imperative that newly pregnant women are taking a folic acid supplement.
Even with taking folic acid, it is not known why this helps and it is also not really known what are the causes of spina bifida, so research continues.
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