What You Should Know About Neural Tube Defects

When you’re pregnant, just hearing the term Neural Tube Defects (NTD) is enough to make you shiver. Throughout the nine months that your baby is inside your womb, you do everything to ensure that he/she is given the best possible care and nutrition so that your bundle of joy will come out into this world in the pink of health. Even though you don’t want anything to do with this common form of birth defect, it’s crucial to understand it more deeply so you’re better informed in terms of prevention. Here are what you have to know about NTD.

What Are Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)?
Neural Tube Defects are some of the most common birth defects that affect one in every 1,000 babies born in the United States. This refers to the condition of having an opening in the brain or spinal cord. It occurs during the early stages of the baby’s development inside the womb. The early spinal cord of the embryo develops as a flat region at first. It forms into a neural tube 28 days after the baby’s conception. That neural tube becomes the back bone and spinal cord. If the neural tube doesn’t close completely, that’s when an NTD occurs. In some cases, an NTD may develop even before a woman knows that she is pregnant.

There are two primary types of neural tube defects:
– Open NTDs
– Closed NTDs

Open NTDs
These occur when there is defect in the skull or vertebrae that exposes the brain and/or spinal cord during birth. The most common forms Open NTDs are:
– Spina Bifida
– Anencephaly

• Spina Bifida:
The spinal cord and back bone are not developed fully so there is opening in the back, exposing a part of the spinal cord. Extent of disability depends on the location of the opening. The higher the lesion is, the higher is the risk for paralysis. Lesions located at the lower part result in problems with bladder and intestine. Infants born with this condition are operated on at birth. This is to prevent any further damage to the baby’s nervous system.

• Anencephaly:
This takes place when the head end of the neural tube is not able to close completely. Infants that have this condition are born not having a scalp or cerebellum. About 25 percent of babies with this disorder die during the delivery.

Closed NTDs
The other main type of NTDs is the closed NTDs. These are the rare type which occurs when the spinal defect is covered by the skin. Some examples of this type of neural tube defects include:
– Lipomyelomeningocele
– Lipomeningocele
– Tethered Cord

• Lipomyelomeningocele:
This is a fatty mass located under the skin on the baby’s back, usually in the middle of the back. With this condition, the spinal cord can get stuck (fixed) to the fatty mass, or the fatty mass can put pressure on the spinal cord.

• Lipomeningocele:
This is an intraspinal lipoma (a benign fat-tissue tumor) associated with a spina bifida (spinal cord exposure – detailed above).

• Tethered Cord:
The spinal cord is abnormally attached within the boney spine and thus becomes tethered.

Folic Acid Prevents NTDs
The good news is neural tube defects can be prevented. In fact, 50 to 70 percent of cases can be prevented by taking folic acid supplement. Folic acid is a water soluble B vitamin that helps in the proper development of the spinal cord and brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women of childbearing age should eat a diet that has high folic acid or take multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid every day especially a month prior to conception. Women who have had previous NTD pregnancy need to take in a higher dosage, increasing intake from 0.4 mg to 4 mg of folic acid a day.

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