20 Facts About Spina Bifida

At Sommers Roth & Elmaleh in Toronto, we have been helping families affected by medical errors, including the failure to diagnose serious medical conditions, for more than 40 years. We are highly technically proficient and very knowledgeable about Canada’s medical system and how it interacts with the law. We have an excellent record of obtaining substantial financial compensation for our clients and are well-regarded and respected as leaders in the field.

In addition to being passionate advocates for our clients’ rights, we are equally passionate about educating our clients, and regularly provide them with the resources they need to better understand what may have happened to their child, and what they can do to move forward.

This week, we explore 20 facts about spina bifida, including how spina bifida can and should be easily identified and diagnosed before birth, and what legal recourse parents can have if it is not.

Things to Know About Spina Bifida

  • Spina bifida is a type of neural tube defect (NTD).
  • The neural tube is the structure that eventually develops into a baby’s brain, spinal cord, and surrounding tissue.
  • Neural tube defects are birth defects in these structures. Taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural tube defects.
  • In spinal bifida, the neural tube does not fully develop, and the fetal spinal column does not completely close.
  • Spina bifida can be caused by both genetic or environmental factors.
  • Genetic spina bifida can occur in families with a history of genetic birth defects, particularly trisomy 1B. Genetic screening can help determine the risk of a baby with a family history of such defects developing spina bifida.
  • Spina bifida caused by environmental factors can be affected by several factors during pregnancy including folic acid deficiency, ingestion of certain medications, diabetes, and obesity.
  • Spina bifida may cause physical and intellectual disabilities ranging from mild to severe including permanent loss of bladder or bowel control, paralysis, pain, and cognitive as well as attention difficulties.
  • Spina bifida can increase the odds of infant mortality by exposing the nervous system to dangerous infections, such as meningitis.

  • The severity of disabilities caused by spina bifida depends on the size and location of the opening of the spine, and whether part of the spinal cord and the nerves are affected.

  • There are three major types of spina bifida: myelomeningocele, meningocele, and spina bifida occulta.

  • Myelomeningocele is the most serious form of spina bifida. Babies with this condition are born with a sac of fluid protruding from an opening in their back. This is also referred to as a “Chiari malformation or Arnold-Chiari malformation. Part of the baby’s spinal cord and nerves are in this sac and are subsequently damaged because they are not protected. This form of spina bifida causes moderate to severe disabilities including toileting problems, loss of feeling in legs or feet, or a complete inability to move the legs.
  • In meningocele spina bifida, a sac of fluid also protrudes through an opening in the baby’s back, but the spinal cord is not in the sac and there is usually little or no nerve damage. This form of spina bifida can cause minor disabilities.
  • Spina bifida occulta is the mildest form of spina bifida and is sometimes known as “hidden” spina bifida. While a baby with this type of spina bifida has a small gap in their spine, there is no large opening or sac on the baby’s back and the spinal cord and nerves are usually intact. Spina bifida occulta does not cause any disabilities and may not be discovered until late childhood.
  • Neural tube defects, including spina bifida, are usually diagnosed before birth, through lab or imaging tests, such as ultrasounds.
  • The most important part of treating spina bifida is in early detection. Detecting spina bifida before birth can allow doctors to take immediate action to prevent further damage to the spine and/or infection. In some cases, corrective surgery can be performed, in-utero, that will prevent most (and sometimes all) problems and challenges associated with spina bifida.
  • Equally important is proper counselling for mothers on the dangers of taking certain medications, or the dangers of diabetes on a pregnancy.
  • Early detection of spina bifida should be straightforward in all cases. Spina bifida shows up on ultrasounds and a correctly trained ultrasound tech, obstetrician, or other health care professional treating the mother should be able to identify it.
  • Unfortunately, spina bifida is not always detected, or parents are not always informed of its presence. Failure to diagnose spina bifida, failure to inform parents of the condition, or failure to act in a timely fashion if it is detected can all result in a child being born with life-altering symptoms that can significantly impact them in the long-term.
  • If you think your child’s spina bifida was overlooked before, during, or after birth, you may have grounds for a lawsuit that could allow you to receive compensation to provide financial security for yourself and your family.

At Sommers, Roth & Elmaleh, our goal is to protect the rights of children and parents whose lives have been impacted by spina bifida resulting from the condition being undetected, detected but not properly treated, or the mother not being made aware of the risk of taking certain medications while pregnant. Over the years, we have won some of the largest medical malpractice awards in Canadian history for our clients. We offer contingency fee agreements. Call us at 1-416-961-1212 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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