What are the treatments for neural tube defects (NTDs)?

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 condition’s 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 (excess fluid surrounding 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.
  • Encephaloceles. People with encephaloceles—sac-like bulges where the brain and surrounding membranes protrude through the skull—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.
  • 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 and lack of bladder and bowel control. People with myelomeningocele often have nerve damage that keeps the bladder from completely emptying. This can cause urinary tract infections and damage to the kidneys. Health care providers may address this problem by using a tube to fully empty the bladder. Medications, injections, and surgery also can help prevent urine from leaking accidentally and keep the kidneys and bladder working for the long term.

There is no treatment for anencephaly or iniencephaly.2 Infants with these conditions usually die shortly after birth.


  1. National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (n.d.). Spina bifida information page. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Spina-Bifida-Information-Page
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Birth defects: Facts about anencephaly. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/Anencephaly.html
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