Myelomeningocele (my-uh-lo-meh-NIN-guh-seal) is a type of spina bifida. Spina bifida
(SPY-nuh BIF-ih-duh) happens when a baby's backbone (spine) does not form normally
during pregnancy. The baby is born with a gap in the bones of the spine.
A myelomeningocele is a sac that contains:
part of the spinal cord
its covering (called the meninges)
It pushes through the gap in the spine and the skin. It can be seen on the baby's
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Myelomeningocele?
The signs and symptoms of a myelomeningocele depend
on where it is. A myelomeningocele can lead to:
weakness, loss of feeling, or trouble moving body parts below the level of the
problems with bladder (pee) and bowel (poop) control
Sometimes babies with a myelomeningocele are born with other medical problems like
of the spine, hip problems, heart problems, or kidney problems.
What Are the Other Types of Spina Bifida?
Other kinds of spina bifida include:
occulta: This is a gap in the bones in the spine but the spinal cord and meninges
do not push through it. They are in their normal place inside the spinal canal, and
there's no opening on the baby's back.
Meningocele: This is when a sac that contains spinal fluid pushes through the
gap in the spine. The spinal cord is in its normal place in the spinal canal. The
skin over the meningocele often is open.
How Does a Myelomeningocele Happen?
All types of spina bifida happen in the first month of pregnancy.
At first, a fetus' spinal cord is flat. It then closes into a tube called a neural
tube. If this tube does not fully close, the baby is born with spina bifida. In myelomeningocele,
a sac containing part of the spinal cord, meninges, and spinal fluid push through
the gap in the spine and the skin.
What Causes a Myelomeningocele?
Doctors don't know exactly why some babies get a myelomeningocele. It can happen
if a woman does not get enough of the vitamin folic
acid early in her pregnancy. A woman also might be more likely to have a baby
with a myelomeningocele if she:
takes certain seizure medicines during pregnancy
already has had a baby with spina bifida
How Is Myelomeningocele Diagnosed?
During pregnancy, a blood test called alpha feta protein (AFP) can tell if a woman
has a higher risk of having a baby with a myelomeningocele. A prenatal
ultrasound or fetal MRI
can show whether a baby has one.
A myelomeningocele that's not diagnosed during pregnancy is seen when the baby
How Is Myelomeningocele Treated?
After delivery, a baby born with a myelomeningocele will need:
surgery to close the skin over the myelomeningocele (usually within 3 days)
testing for Chiari malformation and hydrocephalus with an ultrasound, CT scan,
regular checks of head size to see if hydrocephalus develops
regular checks of movements to see how the spinal cord and nerves are working
Other medical care will depend on a child's needs. Treatments can include:
a shunt for hydrocephalus
(the shunt drains the spinal fluid into the belly so it doesn't build up)
leg braces to help walking
a tube (called a catheter) to help empty the bladder
Some myelomeningoceles found before birth are treated with surgery while the baby
is still in the womb. Sometimes this can lower the chances of the baby getting hydrocephalus
later. And it might increase the strength of the child's legs. There are risks to
the mom and baby from this surgery, so doctors and families have to decide together
if the surgery is right for them.
What Can Parents Do?
Most children with myelomeningocele will need ongoing medical care. To help your
child stay as healthy as possible:
Take your child to all medical appointments.
Follow all treatment recommendations, such as giving medicines and going to PT
Having a child with a serious medical condition can feel overwhelming for any family.
But you don't have to go it alone. Talk to anyone on the care team about ways to find
support. You also can visit online sites for more information and support, such as: