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Types of spina bifida

The three main types of spina bifida that are always present at birth are: 
Spina Bifida Cystica (cyst-like), Spina Bifida Occulta and Encephalocele.  

Spina Bifida Cystica 

The visible signs of spina bifida cystica are a sac or cyst, rather like a large blister on the back, covered by a thin layer of skin.

There are two forms: 

Type one: Myelomeningocele (meningomyelocele)

Myelomeningocele is the most serious and more common of the two forms of cystic spina bifida. Here the cyst not only contains tissue and cerebro-spinal fluid but also nerves and part of the spinal cord. The spinal cord is damaged or not properly developed. As a result, there is always some paralysis and loss of sensation below the damaged region. The amount of disability depends very much on where the spina bifida is, and the amount of affected nerve tissue involved. Bladder and bowel problems occur in most people with myelomeningocele, as the nerves come from the bottom of the spinal cord, so are always below the lesion. It is also necessary to have intact nerve pathways to the brain for complete control and sensation.

Type two: Meningocele

In this form, the sac contains meninges (tissues which cover the brain and spinal cord) and cerebro-spinal fluid, which bathes the central nervous system. Development of the spinal cord may be affected, but impairment is usually less severe than myelomeningocele. Meningocele is the least common form of spina bifida.

Spina Bifida Occulta (hidden form)

This is a mild form of spina bifida, which is very common. Estimates vary but between 5% and 10% of people may have spina bifida occulta. It must be emphasised that, for the vast majority of those affected, having spina bifida occulta is of no consequence whatsoever. Often people only become aware that they have spina bifida occulta after having a back x-ray for an unrelated problem. 
However, for a few (about 1 in 1,000) there can be associated problems. See Shine’s information sheet on ‘Spina Bifida Occulta’.

Encephalocele

This is a sac which is formed when the bones of the skull fail to develop. It may contain only cerebro-spinal fluid or part of the brain may also be present in the sac, resulting in brain damage.

Anencephaly 

This is where the brain does not develop properly or is absent, and the baby is either still born or dies shortly after birth. Contact Shine for further information.

Hydrocephalus 

Most babies born with myelomeningocele also have hydrocephalus (from the Greek hydro, meaning water, and cephalie, meaning brain). This is an accumulation of cerebro-spinal fluid which arises from an imbalance in the production and drainage of that fluid. Further information about hydrocephalus is given in the Shine Information Sheet ‘What is Hydrocephalus?’.

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Did You Know?

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

Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

Babies born prematurely are at increased risk of developing hydrocephalus.

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

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.

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

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

Spina bifida occulta is a hidden form of spina bifida.

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