Neural tube defects are birth deformities of the brain and spinal cord. These deformities are caused due to defects in the neural tube formation during pregnancy.
The neural tube is the primitive tissue structure that the embryo forms during the first month of pregnancy. As the embryo grows, the neural tube develops into bones, tissue, and nerves that will eventually form the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Types of Neural Tube defects:
The two most common neural tube defects are:
Spina Bifida– in this defect, the fetal spinal column is not developed properly and does not fully close. With this defect, the baby usually has paralysis of the legs due to nerve damage.
Anencephaly- in this defect, the fetal brain and skull do not fully develop. Infants with Anencephaly are usually stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Causes of Neural Tube defects
The exact cause of neural tube defects is not known. However, there are certain risk factors associated with women that can lead to such defects. Also, these are considered to be a mix of environmental and genetic factors.
Risk factors include:
- History of having a baby with neural tube defect
- A close relative gave birth to a baby with a neural tube defect
- Uncontrolled type 1 diabetes
- If women take antiepileptic medicines
Diagnosis of neural tube defects
Neural tube defects are usually diagnosed via ultrasound or morphology scans. Ultrasound is done around 12 weeks of the pregnancy. This scan may be able to detect problems with your baby’s spine that could indicate spina bifida if the condition is severe.
Between 18-20 weeks of the pregnancy, a morphology scan is carried out to detect the baby’s anomalies or any physical problems. Usually, a spina bifida is detected during this scan.
Treatment for neural tube defects:
The treatment depends on the type, severity, and complications of the defects. Infants with spina bifida can get treated, but infants with Anencephaly cannot be treated; they usually die after birth. Spina bifida can be of open or closed type, and treatment varies accordingly.
Open Spina bifida: a baby with an open spinal cord can be treated through surgery to close the hole in the back. This can be done before birth or few days after delivery.
Paralysis: if the infant’s legs are paralyzed or have limitations in mobility, such patients take the help of assistive devices such as crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, and braces to move around.
Hydrocephalus: in this condition, the baby with spina bifida defect has excessive fluid surrounding the brain. This defect can be treated through a shunt procedure that helps reduce the pressure by draining the extra liquid.
Encephaloceles: in this defect, sac-like bulges from the brain protrudes through the skull. This can be treated via surgery in which the bulges are placed back into the head.