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Spina Bifida

Discover the untold truths and groundbreaking advancements surrounding Spina Bifida, a condition affecting millions worldwide, as we delve into its causes, treatments, and promising future research.

USMLE Guide: Spina Bifida


Spina Bifida is a congenital defect of the neural tube that occurs during embryonic development. It is characterized by the incomplete closure of the spinal column, leading to various neurological and physical abnormalities. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Spina Bifida for USMLE preparation.


  • Spina Bifida is one of the most common birth defects worldwide, with varying prevalence among different populations.
  • The overall prevalence is estimated to be around 1-2 per 1,000 live births, but it may vary based on geographic location and ethnicity.
  • Females are slightly more likely to be affected than males.

Types of Spina Bifida

  1. Spina Bifida Occulta:

    • Mildest form, often asymptomatic.
    • Incomplete closure of the spinal vertebrae without protrusion of the spinal cord or meninges.
    • Not typically associated with significant neurological deficits.
  2. Spina Bifida Cystica:

    • Includes two subtypes:
      • Meningocele: Sac-like protrusion containing meninges and cerebrospinal fluid, but no neural elements.
      • Myelomeningocele: Most severe form, involving protrusion of the meninges, cerebrospinal fluid, and neural tissue.
      • Myelomeningocele is associated with the highest risk of neurological deficits.


  • Spina Bifida results from failure of the neural tube to close during embryonic development, typically around the 4th week of gestation.
  • Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the pathogenesis.
  • Folic acid deficiency during pregnancy is a known risk factor.

Clinical Presentation

  1. Spina Bifida Occulta:

    • Often incidental finding, as it may not cause noticeable symptoms.
    • Clinical features, if present, may include midline dimple, tuft of hair, or cutaneous marker along the spinal column.
  2. Spina Bifida Cystica:

    • Meningocele: Visible sac-like structure along the spinal column, may or may not be associated with neurological symptoms.
    • Myelomeningocele: Visible sac-like structure containing neural elements, often associated with significant neurological deficits, such as motor and sensory impairments, bowel and bladder dysfunction, and musculoskeletal abnormalities.


  • Prenatal screening: Elevated maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels on maternal serum screening.
  • Prenatal diagnosis: Ultrasound examination revealing the presence of spinal abnormalities or neural tube defects.
  • Postnatal confirmation: Clinical examination and imaging studies, such as MRI or CT scan, to identify the type and extent of Spina Bifida.


  1. Spina Bifida Occulta:

    • Generally does not require specific treatment.
    • Close monitoring and management of any associated symptoms or complications.
  2. Spina Bifida Cystica:

    • Meningocele: Surgical repair to close the defect and prevent infection.
    • Myelomeningocele: Urgent surgical repair within the first few days of life to minimize complications and preserve neurological function.
  3. Long-term management:

    • Multidisciplinary approach involving neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, physical therapy, and other specialties.
    • Focus on supportive care, rehabilitation, and prevention of complications, including infections, hydrocephalus, and musculoskeletal deformities.
    • Regular monitoring and follow-up throughout the patient's life.


  • The prognosis of Spina Bifida depends on the type and severity of the condition.
  • Spina Bifida Occulta generally has a good prognosis without significant functional limitations.
  • Prognosis for Spina Bifida Cystica, especially myelomeningocele, depends on the extent of neurological deficits and associated complications.
  • Early diagnosis, prompt management, and comprehensive long-term care can improve outcomes and quality of life for affected individuals.


Spina Bifida is a common congenital defect that affects the spinal column's closure during embryonic development. Understanding its types, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and management is essential for USMLE preparation. With early diagnosis and appropriate interventions, the prognosis and quality of life for individuals with Spina Bifida can be significantly improved.

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