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What are the treatments for neural tube defects?

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Encephaloceles are sometimes treated with surgery. During the surgery, the bulge of tissue is placed back into the skull. Surgery also may help to correct abnormalities in the skull and face.

Treatment for spina bifida depends on the severity of the condition and the presence of complications. For some people, treatment needs may change over time depending on the severity or complications.1

  • Open spina bifida. An infant with myelomeningocele, in which the spinal cord is exposed, can have surgery to close the hole in the back before birth or within the first few days after birth.
  • Hydrocephalus. If an infant with spina bifida has hydrocephalus (water on the brain), a surgeon can implant a shunt—a small hollow tube to drain fluid—to relieve pressure on the brain. Treating hydrocephalus can prevent problems such as blindness.
  • Tethered spinal cord. Surgery can separate the spinal cord from surrounding tissue.1
  • Paralysis and limitations in mobility.People with spina bifida use different means to get around, including braces, crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs.
  • Urinary tract infections; lack of bladder and bowel control.People with myelomeningocele often have nerve damage that prevents the bladder from completely emptying, a condition that can cause urinary tract infections and kidney damage. Health care providers may address this problem by regularly inserting a catheter into the bladder to allow it to empty fully. Medications, injections, and surgery also can help correct incontinence and preserve kidney and bladder function for the long term.

There is no treatment for anencephaly or iniencephaly.2 These conditions are usually fatal shortly after birth.


  1. National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2007). Spina bifida fact sheet. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/spina_bifida/detail_spina_bifida.htm#203463258 [top]
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2001). Facts about anencephaly. Retrieved on July 23, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/Anencephaly.html [top]

Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 11/30/2012
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