What is myelomeningocele?

Myelomeningocele is the most severe form of spina bifida. It happens when parts of the spinal cord and nerves come through the open part of the spine. It causes nerve damage and other disabilities. Seventy to ninety percent of children with this condition also have too much fluid on their brains (hydrocephalus). This happens because fluid that protects the brain and spinal cord is unable to drain like it should. The fluid builds up, causing pressure and swelling. Without treatment, a person’s head grows too big, and they may have brain damage. Other disorders of the spinal cord may be seen, including syringomyelia and hip dislocation. The cause of myelomeningocele is unknown. However, low levels of folic acid in a woman's body before and during early pregnancy is thought to play a part in this type of birth defect.

Last updated on 05-01-20

What is the prognosis for myelomenigocele?

Children with myelomeningocele should be scheduled for regular follow-up visits in the multidisciplinary clinic every 6 months throughout childhood and annually thereafter. These follow up visits are done to check the child’s developmental level and to treat any intellectual, neurological or physical problems. Most children will require lifelong treatment for problems that result from damage to the spinal cord and spinal nerves. This includes:

  • Gentle downward pressure over the bladder may help drain the bladder. In severe cases, drainage tubes, called catheters, may be needed. Bowel training programs and a high fiber diet may improve bowel function.

  • Orthopedic or physical therapy may be needed to treat musculoskeletal symptoms. Braces may be needed for muscle and joint problems.

  • Neurological losses are treated according to the type and severity of function loss.

Last updated on 05-01-20

How might myelomeningocele be treated?

A child with meningomyelocele usually has surgery to close the myelomenigocele shortly after birth. This prevents infections and helps save the spinal cord from more damage. Children who also have hydrocephalus may need a ventricular peritoneal shunt placed. This will help drain the extra fluid. In the United States, antibiotics, sac closure, and ventriculoperitoneal shunt placement are the standard of care and are implemented soon after birth in 93-95% of patients.

Last updated on 05-01-20

Name: Spina Bifida Association 4590 MacArthur Boulevard, NW
Washington , DC, 20007, United States
Phone: 202-944-3285 Toll Free: 800-621-3141 Fax : 202-944-3295 Email: Url:

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