June is Spina Bifida Awareness month in Canada! Do you know the facts?
WHAT IS SPINA BIFIDA
Spina bifida is a neural tube defect (NTD) that translates to ‘split spine’. When the brain and spine of a fetus is being formed, the bones of the spinal column do not close the whole way down. The place on the spine where the bones split remains open while the rest of the fetus continues to develop around it. There are different types of spina bifida, but the most common (and most ‘severe’) is called myelomeningocele. With myelomeningocele, the spinal cord is not protected and is exposed to amniotic fluid for the last eight months of a pregnancy, causing irreversible damage.
People with spina bifida will have some degree of paralysis, depending on where the opening is and how much damage there was in utero. These are not things that can be determined until after birth. Some people with SB only require special shoes or orthotics and some use a wheelchair to be ambulatory. About 80% of people with SB will also have hydrocephalus (an excess of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain) which is treated by inserting a shunt into the brain’s ventricles.
Spina bifida is a physical disability and does not generally effect cognitive, social or behavioural aspects of development.
HOW TO PREVENT SPINA BIFIDA
The cause of SB is not yet known, so there is neither a cure nor a means of preventing SB. Taking folic acid at least three months before conceiving and in the first few months of a pregnancy has been shown to reduce the likelihood of having a baby with spina bifida by about 70 percent. There have been studies that show certain medications increase the probability, genetics, and possibly environmental factors.
The SBHAO is an invaluable resource for families and people with SB. They provide resources, support, connections, and advice. The SBHAO is run only through donations, they don’t receive any funds from the government. If you are at the LCBO from now until June 20, drop as much change as you can in the boxes at the checkout counter to support this wonderful organizations and the families impacted by spina bifida and hydrocephalus.