What is Spina Bifida?
In a healthy baby, the neural tube – commonly called the backbone – will fully form around the spinal cord during the first few weeks of pregnancy. This neural tube protects the delicate tissue of the spinal cord from damage. However, if that neural tube does not properly close and there are gaps or holes in the tube, both the nerves and spinal cord can be damaged and can result in abnormal functioning. In some cases, part of the spinal fluid or even spinal tissue can exit through the hole in the neural tube in a sac. Such conditions will be diagnosed as spina bifida.
There are different types of spina bifida, each with its own effects. The nature and severity of the effects of the condition will depend on where the hole was left in the neural tube, the size of the hole, and whether spinal damage occurred.
Three major types of spina bifida:
- Occulta: In this type of spina bifida, the baby will not have a sac or opening on the spine, but will only have a small gap. This type can have few or no symptoms and may not even be discovered until later in life.
- Meningocele: Patients with this type of the condition will have a fluid sac protruding out of the neural tube but no part of the nerves or spine will be in the sac. There is little nerve damage and patients will face relatively minor disabilities or impairments in their lives.
- Myelomeningocele: When part of the spine is in the sac of fluid outside of the backbone, the patient will be diagnosed with this type of spina bifida. The patient will likely have suffered damage to the spine and can face a variety of disabilities and impairments ranging from moderate to severe. Effects can include the inability to walk, incontinence, and intellectual disabilities.
Is Spina Bifida the Result of Medical Malpractice?
Cases of severe spina bifida can be extremely costly to treat and a patient may require lifelong assistance. For this reason, doctors should do everything in their power to help prevent or detect this condition whenever possible.
If a woman is planning to get pregnant, her doctor should advise her to take folic acid to reduce the risk of spina bifida. A doctor must also ensure that diabetes or similar conditions are controlled to help prevent such birth defects. If a medical professional fails to advise women to take thee basic preventative measures, it could be deemed to be medical negligence. This is particularly true if a woman has had a previous pregnancy that involved spina bifida.
Additionally, a doctor should perform proper tests early in the pregnancy to identify the existence of spina bifida. If the doctor determines a that a fetus has spina bifida, they should promptly notify the mother/parents as soon as possible. This is because many couples who get a diagnosis of myelomeningocele spina bifida early in the pregnancy choose to terminate the pregnancy. A doctor may be deemed negligent if a diagnosis of spina bifida was missed or if parents were not properly informed of the diagnosis.
Finally, in some cases of open spina bifida, a doctor may be able to perform prenatal surgery to close the hole prior to birth. This can reduce the amount of damage to the spine and can often improve the child’s prognosis. If a diagnosis is missed, a child may miss out on this life-changing surgery.
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