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Neural Tube Defects
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Neural tube defects are defects in the development of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. Of the several types of neural tube defects, the two most common ones are spina bifida and anencephaly.


What is a neural tube defect?

According to a UNSW report, neural tube defects (NTDs) are a group of major congenital anomalies (from birth) resulting from a very early disruption in the development of the brain and spinal cord. In other words, they happen in the first couple of months of pregnancy, possibly before women know they are pregnant.

 Examples of these defects include anencephaly, spina bifida, meningocele, tethered spinal cord syndrome and encephalocele. These congenital health conditions may be incompatible with life. Children born with NTD generally require a range of cares after birth including physiotherapy and surgery.

When a child has spina bifida, the fetal spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. This is because the neural tube doesn’t close or develop completely. Depending on the degree, there can be impairments in mobility and bowel/bladder function.

In anencephaly, most of the brain and skull do not develop. Babies born with this condition are usually either stillborn or die shortly after birth.



The exact causes of neural tube defects aren’t known. However, risk factors for having a baby with NTDs have been highlighted. These include:

  •   Genes/ family history
  •   Race (NTDs are highest among Hispanics).
  •   Obesity
  •   Poorly controlled diabetes
  •   Use of anti-seizure medications
  •   Use of opioids in the first 2 months of pregnancy
  •   High body temperature in the first few weeks of pregnancy



Major symptoms of NTDs include the following:

  •       Physical deformities
  •       Paralysis
  •       Developmental delays
  •       Seizures



To help prevent most NTDs, you need to get enough folic acid, a type of B vitamin before and during pregnancy. 400 micrograms of folic acid is the daily recommendation even if you’re not pregnant. For women at high risk for NTDs, they are advised to take 4000 micrograms of folic acid every day.


Folic acid helps prevent NTDs only if you take it before and in the first few weeks of pregnancy.


It is also advised to eat foods fortified with folic acid such as fortified bread, pasta, flour, cornmeal, breakfast cereal and white rice to name a few. Some foods also naturally rich in folate include dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans, lentils, orange and orange juice, and asparagus.



There is no cure for NTDs. However, there are treatment options for some NTDs that can prevent further damage and help with complications. These include pain management and surgery.


You can make an appointment with Dr Kenny on 07 3188 5000.

This article is written to be informative and does not substitute seeking a professional consultation from a medical professional.

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Greenslopes Obstetrics & Gynaecology is closely aligned with the Greenslopes Private Hospital which opened Brisbane’s newest maternity facility in February 2013.

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