NTDs occur when the spinal cord, brain, and related structures do not form properly. NTDs are called birth defects because they are present at birth. They usually occur very early in pregnancy—usually during the first month—and can cause serious problems after birth.
Since NICHD was founded, one of its main focuses has been understanding the causes, treatment, and prevention of birth defects like NTDs.
A neural tube defect occurs early in fetal development when spinal cord, brain, or related structures do not form or grow properly.
NTD symptoms include physical problems (such as paralysis and urinary and bowel dysfunction), blindness, deafness, intellectual disabilities, and sometimes death.
The exact causes of NTDs remain unknown, but many factors, such as genetics and the fetal environment, play a role.
Spina bifida and anencephaly are the most common NTDs in the United States. Parents who have already had a child with an NTD have a slightly elevated risk of having a second child with an NTD.
NTDs are usually diagnosed during pregnancy, through laboratory or imaging tests.
Infants with NTDs may have other conditions, such as hydrocephalus or paralysis, which need treatment over time or later in life.
Surgery, assistive technology, and orthotics are just some of the treatments for NTDs and their complications.