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Health Information For Parents
May also be called: Meningomyelocele; Spina Bifida; Open Spinal Dysraphism
Myelomeningocele (my-uh-low-meh-NIN-guh-seel) is a type of spina bifida. Spina bifida is a birth defect that happens when the spinal cord and the membranes that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord (meninges) push through an abnormal hole in the back and form a fluid-filled sac.
Spina bifida, which happens at the end of the first month of pregnancy, is a birth defect that occurs when the spinal cord or its coverings don’t develop completely.
In spina bifida, the two sides of an embryo’s spine fail to join together, leaving an open area in the back. In some cases, the spinal cord or other membranes push through this opening. If just the meninges push through, the condition is called meningocele. Myelomeningocele happens when both the meninges and the spinal cord push through.
Myelomeningocele is the most severe form of spina bifida. Because of the abnormal development of and damage to the spinal cord, a child with myelomeningocele usually has some paralysis. The degree of paralysis depends on where the opening is in the spine. The higher the opening is on the back, the more severe the paralysis tends to be. Most babies born with myelomeningocele also have hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid in and around the brain.
Myelomeningocele is usually detected in prenatal screening tests before a baby is born and treated with surgery after birth. During the surgery, doctors push the spine back into the vertebrae (the small, ring-like bones that make up the spinal column) and close the hole to prevent infection and protect the spine.
With the right treatment and ongoing care, most kids born with myelomeningocele can expect to lead a productive life and have a relatively normal life span. However, some amount of paralysis or weakness in the legs usually can be expected due to nerve damage. As a result, many kids with myelomeningocele will use wheelchairs to get around.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
Some birth defects are minor and cause no problems; others cause major disabilities. Learn about the different types of birth defects, and how to help prevent them.
Spina bifida is a birth defect that involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord or its coverings. It’s usually detected before a baby is born and treated right away.
One of the most important things you can do to help prevent serious birth defects in your baby is to get enough folic acid every day – especially before conception and during early pregnancy.
Genetic counselors work with people who are either planning to have a baby or are pregnant to determine whether they carry the genes for certain inherited disorders. Find out more.
Occupational therapy helps children overcome obstacles to be as independent as possible. Learn more about OT.
If your child has a birth defect, you don’t have to go it alone – many people and resources are available to help you.
Often called “water on the brain,” hydrocephalus can cause babies’ and young children’s heads to swell to make room for excess cerebrospinal fluid. Learn how this condition is managed.
Every parent-to-be hopes for a healthy baby, but it can be hard not to worry. Find out what tests can keep you informed of your health â and your baby’s â throughout pregnancy.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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