Spina Bifida – Spina Bifida Occulta, Meningocele, Myelomeningocele

Spina bifida is a birth defect where the backbone and membranes around the spinal cord do not close properly. This can cause damage to the spinal cord and nerves and can result in physical and mental impairments.


There is no cure but there are three main types with differing severity of symptoms:

  • Spina Bifida occulta – the mildest form of the condition where there is a small gap in the spine, but no opening on the back. This type does not usually cause any problems or impairments.
  • Meningocele – with this type of the condition, a sac of fluid appears through an opening in the baby’s back. Because the spinal cord in not in the sac, there is usually no nerve damage and this type might cause minor impairments.
  • Myelomeningocele – this is the most serious form of the condition because part of the spinal cord and nerves protrude from an opening in the baby’s back. Impairments caused by this type of spina bifida can range from mild to severe and include loss of feeling in the feet and legs, lack of mobility and problems with bladder and bowel control.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Spina bifida is usually detected during prenatal tests such as blood tests, ultrasound and amniocentesis. Sometimes it is not diagnosed until the baby is born. Doctors can be alerted by an unusual marking on a baby’s back or through use of x-ray, computerised tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to view the baby’s spine.

Babies born with myelomeningocele or meningocele will require more serious treatments than those with spina bifida occulta. This will usually involve surgery before, or soon after, birth. Early surgery reduces the risk of further damage to the spinal cord caused by infection or swelling. Babies who have this surgery should develop normally.

In some cases, nerve damage caused by the surgery can result in paralysis of the legs, learning impairments, problems with bladder and bowel functions or accumulation of brain fluid (hydrocephalus). There is no cure for spina bifida and your doctor will give you all the information about options and risks should you need to decide on surgery for your child. Surgery before birth can reduce the need for further surgery to divert fluid away from the baby’s brain. It can also increase a child’s chances of having full mobility without impairments.


  • Rehabilitation as needed
  • Follow up MRI
  • Possible follow up surgery if required
  • Physiotherapy as needed
  • Occupational therapy as needed
  • Psychological support as needed
  • Pain medication as required
  • Joining a support group for children and families such as Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Queensland is recommended
  • Urology assessment for bladder and kidney function


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