NTDs are abnormalities that can occur in the brain, spinal cord, or spine of a developing fetus.
Very early in the development of a fetus, certain cells form a tube (called the neural tube) that will later become the spinal cord, the brain, and the nearby structures that protect them, including the backbone (also called the spinal column or vertebrae). As development progresses, the top of the tube becomes the brain and the remainder becomes the spinal cord. An NTD occurs when this tube does not close completely somewhere along its length, resulting in a hole in the spinal column or another type of problem.
These defects occur in the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. Because they are present at birth, they are categorized as birth defects.
There are several types of NTDs, described here.
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