A birth defect involving an abnormal opening in the spinal bones (vertebrae) is called spina bifida. The spinal vertebrae have not formed and joined normally, leaving an opening.
A defect which also includes a small, moist sac (cyst) protruding through the spinal defect, containing a portion of the spinal cord membrane (meninges), spinal fluid, and a portion of spinal cord and nerves is called a meningocele, myelomeningocele, or meningomyelocele.
Surgical treatment is needed to repair the defect and is usually done within 12 to 24 hours after birth to prevent infection, swelling, and further damage.
While the baby is deep asleep and pain-free (using general anesthesia), an incision is made in the sac and some of the excess fluid is drained off. The spinal cord is covered with the membranes (meninges) and the skin is closed over the protruding meninges, spinal cord, and nerves.
The long-term result depends on the condition of the spinal cord and nerves. Outcomes range from normal development to paralysis (paraplegia).
Infants may require about 2 weeks in the hospital after surgery.
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.