An infant with open spina bifida (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.
If an infant with spina bifida has hydrocephalus (water on the brain), a surgeon can implant a shunt—a small hollow tube to drain the extra fluid and relieve pressure on the brain. The shunt may need to be replaced during childhood.
For a child with this condition, in which the spinal cord is attached to the spinal canal and stretches as the child grows, surgery can separate the spinal cord from surrounding tissue, allowing the child to regain his or her usual level of functioning.
People with spina bifida use different ways to get around, according to their needs. They may be able to walk without assistance, or they may use braces, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs.
People with open spina bifida often have nerve damage that prevents the bladder from completely emptying, a condition that can cause urinary tract infections and kidney damage. The child or parent can address this problem by inserting a plastic tube called a catheter into the bladder several times a day to allow the bladder to empty fully. Medications, injections, and surgery can also help address incontinence issues and preserve kidney and bladder function for the long term. Children with spina bifida should see a urologist (a doctor who specializes in urinary tract problems) regularly.
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