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Types of Spina Bifida

Affinity Health is a leading provider of high-quality healthcare cover. Here are their views on Spina bifida – a disorder prevalent from birth.


Spina bifida is among the most common disabling birth condition in South Africa. After heart defects, neural tube defects and Down syndrome, Spina Bifida affects 1 in 1 000 babies. CDC estimates that 70 000 people globally live with the defect.


What is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida can occur anywhere along the spine. During embryonic development, the spinal cord needs to form and close. If the spinal cord fails to seal during development, it causes damage.

Spina bifida may result in modest to severe physical and intellectual problems. The severity depends on:

  • The size and location of the spinal opening.
  • Whether the spinal cord and nerves are intact.

Variations of Spina Bifida

1.     Myelomeningocele:

The most severe form of spina bifida is myelomeningocele. This type of spina bifida causes moderate to severe difficulties.

2.     Meningocele:

Often, there is minimal or no nerve injury with meningocele. This kind of spina bifida can result in modest impairments.

3.     Spina Bifida Occulta:

Spina bifida occulta is the least severe form of the condition. The spinal cord and nerves are often healthy. It does not result in disabilities.

How is Spina Bifida Diagnosed?

Spina bifida may occur during pregnancy or after birth. But spina bifida occulta may not appear until late childhood or maturity.

Doctors test for birth abnormalities during pregnancy. These tests may detect spina bifida. AFP is an abbreviation for alpha-fetoprotein – a protein produced by an unborn child.


A simple blood test can analyse the amount of AFP, which travels to an infant through the mother’s circulation. A high AFP level may mean that the infant has spina bifida. Other tests that can identify spina bifida are ultrasound and amniocentesis.

Learn More: Things You Should Know During Pregnancy

How is Spina Bifida Diagnosed After Birth?

Sometimes, spina bifida is invisible until after birth. The mother might not receive prenatal care. An ultrasound might miss the damaged part of the spine.


Other times, a hairy patch of skin or a dimple appears on the back of a newborn for the first time after birth. A doctor may use an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan to get a sharper image of the baby’s spine to conclude the diagnosis.

What Treatment Options are Available?

Not all individuals born with spina bifida have the exact needs, so their treatments may vary. Some individuals have more severe issues than others. It’s best to discuss treatment options with your health care provider.


“Spina bifida can cause many social and emotional challenges. Given proper care, most patients enjoy full lives,” concludes Murray Hewlett, Affinity Health CEO.

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is the leading provider of affordable medical insurance in South Africa. Members enjoy access to a network of healthcare providers. We have designed healthcare products to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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