Spina Bifida means ‘split spine’. This split is caused by a fault in the development of the spinal cord and surrounding bones which leaves a gap or a split in the spine. The spinal cord has not been formed properly and may be damaged.
There are three main types of Spina Bifida:
- Spina Bifida Cystica (cyst – like) – the visible signs are a sac or cyst, much like a large blister on the back, covered by a thin layer of skin. There are two forms, 1 – Myelomeningocele – this is the most serious and more common of the two forms of cystic spina bifida. The cyst not only contains tissue and cerebro- spinal fluid but also nerves and part of the spinal cord. As a result, there is always some paralysis and loss of sensation below the damaged region. Bladder and bowel problems occur in most people with myelomeningocele as the nerves come from the bottom of the spinal cord, so are always below the lesion. 2 – Meningocele – in this form, the sac contains meninges (tissues which cover the brain and spinal cord) and cerebro-spinal fluid, which bathes the central nervous system. Development of the spinal cord may be affected but impairment is usually less severe than myelomeningocele.
- Spina Bifida Occulta (hidden form) – this is a mild form of spina bifida which is very common. Estimates vary but between 5% and 10% of people may have spina bifida occulta. For the vast majority of those that are affected, having spina bifida occulta is of no consequence whatsoever. Often people only become aware that they have spina bifida occulta after having a back x ray for an unrelated problem. There can be associated problems for a small minority of those affected.
- Encephalocele – a sac is formed when the bones of the skull fail to develop. It may contain only cerebro -spinal fluid or part of the brain may also be present in the sac, resulting in brain damage.
It is not yet known what causes spina bifida but research continues.
Spina Bifida and Bowel problems
Most people that have Spina Bifida will have bowel problems. Often the sensation and muscular control needed to remain continent and to avoid constipation are impaired due to damage to the spinal cord. Reduced mobility and lack of access to appropriate toilet facilities can also contribute to the difficulties. Problems people experience may include bowel incontinence, constipation, diarrhoea and faecal overflow – people may suffer one problem or a combination.
To help manage these problems there are some things that you can do.
- Aim to empty your bowel regularly
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet with 5 portions of fruit and vegetables and 2 fibre foods such as whole meal bread or cereals per day and drink the equivalent of approximately 8 glasses of fluid per day
- If just going to the toilet regularly is not enough, developing a bowel management programme is usually a good idea as this puts you more in control of your bowels and helps you to avoid constipation and incontinence
- Regular and gentle exercise is great for you in general and for your bowels. If you are unsure of what exercises you can do, ask your physiotherapist who will be able to advise you.
For further detailed information about Spina Bifida contact Shine