Developmental abnormality characterized by a defect in the bones and other tissue surrounding the spinal cord. As a consequence, the nerves of the spinal cord are exposed and often damaged. Children with this condition may have trouble controlling their bladders and coordinating movements of their legs. The degree of damage depends on where the abnormality appears on the spinal cord. The higher up the spinal cord it is, the more likely the child will have serious problems with his or her leg muscles or bowel and bladder function.
If women take adequate amounts of folic acid they can reduce the chances that their babies will be born with this defect. For most women who do not take medication for seizures and have never had a previous baby with spina bifida or other neural tube defects, an adequate amount of folic acid seems to be 400 micrograms per day. Prenatal vitamins should meet this requirement. A woman should begin taking folic acid before she plans to conceive, as an important time for folic acid supplementation is the first weeks of pregnancy, when a woman may not be aware that she is pregnant.