There are no accurate causes of neural tube defects (NTDs). In the early development of an embryo, there are designated cells responsible for forming the neural tube which eventually becomes the spine, spinal column and other surrounding structures. In time, the upper part of the tube becomes the brain and the rest is what is known as the spinal cord.  If for some reasons, a hole creates in the spinal region as a result of the neural tubes not closing completely, a neural tube defect will occur.

Neural tube defects (NTDs) can be diagnosed before the affected baby is born, through tests. A prenatal ultrasound will ideally detect all types of neural tube defects. There is no cure for neural tube defects, however certain treatments may help prevent further damage and control the level of complications. In most cases however, damaged nerves, disabilities and malfunction evident at birth remain permanent.

Some of these disabilities are:

  • Intellectual disability or very low level of intelligence
  • Seizures
  • Full or partial paralysis
  • Problems with sight
  • Developmental delays

A woman with the following conditions may likely be at a risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect:

  • Obese women or those with a higher than normal BMI
  • Untreated or poorly controlled diabetes
  • Women who take or have taken anti-seizure medications
  • A family history of NTDs
  • Environmental and genetic risk factors

Babies with neural tube defects generally need surgery to reposition parts of the brain back into the skull and close the opening. In some babies, there may be a case of hydrocephalus i.e. an excessive buildup of fluid in the brain. These babies are treated by a surgery that involves inserting a tube into the brain to drain excessive fluid. This is done by rechanneling the fluid to other parts of the body that will not be harmed by it.

A large number of babies born with NTDs are very likely to have other birth defects. The other numbers are either stillbirth or die in the womb by the fifth month of pregnancy.

Other conditions associated with neural tube defects are:

Chiari II malformation – This is an abnormal resting of the brain, farther into the upper spinal canal and can a blockage of the cerebrospinal fluid.  Most babies with this condition may have trouble breathing and upper body weakness. For some babies, there are no other symptoms at all.

A tethered spinal cord- Here, the bottom of the spinal cord freely floats into the spinal canal or the spinal cord is closely linked to the spinal canal. This causes a damage of the spinal nerve or a crooked spine as the spinal cord tends to stretch as the baby grows.

Poor bladder and bowel control- This is an inability to control the release of urine or bowel movements

Learning Disabilities


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