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
More to Know
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.
Keep in Mind
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.
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