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What is spina bifida?

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Spina bifida literally means ‘split spine’

A fault in the development of the spinal cord and surrounding bones (vertebrae) leaves a gap or split in the spine. The spinal cord has not formed properly, and may also be damaged. To help understand what it is, it is useful to explain the composition of the nervous system. 

The Central Nervous System 

The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal cord. All activities are controlled by the brain which receives information from touching, seeing, feeling, tasting and hearing – responding to this information by initiating the appropriate movements of different parts of the body. Messages from the brain are carried to different parts of the body by the spinal cord which runs down the centre of the spinal column. This communication system for the body is very important and needs protection. 

The Spine 

The spine is made up of 33 bones or vertebrae. The vertebrae have two main functions. One is to provide anchorage for muscles so that we can move as the brain dictates to those muscles. The other is to provide protection to the spinal cord. 

The Neural Tube 

The central nervous system and spine develops between the 14th and 23rd day after conception. Spina bifida occurs when the neural tube fails to close correctly. The vertebrae also fail to close in complete rings around the affected portion of the spinal cord. This leaves a gap posteriorly (at the back), involving one or more vertebrae. The fault may occur in one or more of the vertebrae but it is most common around waist-level.

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Did You Know?

If you have spina bifida +/or hydrocephalus you should receive the same vaccinations as any others, when going abroad.

“Every effort should be made to ensure that all children are immunized, no opportunity to immunize should be missed.”

Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired.

Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek "hydro" meaning water and "cephalie", meaning brain.

Some forms of hydrocephalus require no specific treatment.

Medical advice should always be sought if shunt infection is suspected!

Shunt: a device that diverts accumulated CSF around the obstructed pathways back to the bloodstream.

Possible signs of chronic shunt blockage include: 
fatigue, general malaise or behavioural changes.

Possible signs of acute shunt blockage may include: visual disturbances, drowsiness and fits.

A shunt alert card should be carried at all times by people with hydrocephalus treated by a shunt.

Symptoms of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus are similar to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease or simply increasing age.

NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) occurs most often in people aged over 60.

NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) is an excessive build-up of fluid in the head.

Benign Intracranial Hypertension aka Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension affects about one or two in every 100,000 people!

Symptoms associated with raised intracranial pressure; headache, visual disturbances, photophobia, vomiting, problems with balance.....

Diagnosis of Intracranial Hypertension is by scan + measurement of the CSF pressure.

Some 11 - 35% of people with Intracranial Hypertension recover spontaneously!

Babies born prematurely are at increased risk of developing hydrocephalus.

Para-athletes with spina bifida and hydrocephalus compete in sports ranging from cycling to dressage.

Hydrocephalus may affect memory, concentration and behaviour.

The usual treatment for hydrocephalus is to insert a shunt into the brain.

CSF stands for cerebro-spinal fluid.

Hydrocephalus is a build up of excess fluid in the brain.

Shine is always looking for Marathon Runners to help with fundraising.

Benny Bear is a teddy with hydrocephalus who helps children understand the condition.

Spina bifida occulta is a hidden form of spina bifida.

Shine can raise money by recycling your used inkjet cartridges, toners or CDs and DVDs.

Most babies with spina bifida undergo surgery within 48 hours of birth.

Some babies with spina bifida are now operated on before they are born via keyhole surgery.

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