Spina Bifida is a developmental defect which occurs within the first six weeks of pregnancy, caused possibly by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some of the spinal bones which normally protect and cover the delicate nerves of the spinal cord do not close. Consequently the spinal nerve tissue protrudes through this gap and forms an open swelling on the back. This could occur anywhere from the back of the head to the lowest part of the spine. Even though surgery at birth closes the gap, the damage to the spinal nerve tissues can never be repaired.
The degree of paralysis will depend on the extent of damage to the spinal cord and the position of the lesion. Usually there is some paralysis and loss of sensation in the legs and lower trunk. This could result in:
- a need to use a mobility aid such as callipers, crutches, a walking frame, walking sticks or a wheelchair
- various degrees of bowel and bladder incontinence. There are several methods available to manage this problem.
- hydrocephalus, sometimes known as water on the brain, managed by a surgically inserted
"shunt" which directs the fluid to another part of the body for absorption
- vision impairment and/or learning problems.
- high risk of grazing, cutting, bruising, or burning. Because there is a lack of feeling, protection of the skin is of great importance
All of these associated disabilities will vary from person to person. Many children with Spina Bifida attend regular preschool, primary and secondary schools and universities.
I M P L I C AT I O N S F O R D A I LY L I V I N G
The impact of Spina Bifida on daily living includes:
- total or partial paraplegia resulting in the need for orthopaedic operations, leg-splints, crutches or wheelchairs
- the loss of sensation can result in the inability to notice the effects of pressure, friction and temperature and the development of pressure sores and accidental bruising and burns
- difficulties with bowel and bladder function which can be supported by medical and surgical treatment and the use of personal care appliances (colostomy bags)
- occasional leakage of urine and faeces can occur. Renal tract damage and renal infections may
- shunts used to drain fluid from the brain may become blocked, infected or disconnect. Problems with shunt malfunction may result in drowsiness, headaches, vomiting, irritability and increase in head size requiring medical
- problems associated with loss of genital sensation and impairments that result from bladder and bowel malfunction
- additional problems associated with the frequent medical and surgical interventions that many people with spina bifida require
W A Y S O F A S S I S T I N G
To assist people with Spina Bifida:
- assist to change posture to prevent pressure sores occurring
- observe and report appropriately changes that may indicate medical complications