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Neural Tube Defects

Summary

Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. They happen in the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. In spina bifida, the fetal spinal column doesn't close completely. There is usually nerve damage that causes at least some paralysis of the legs. In anencephaly, most of the brain and skull do not develop. Babies with anencephaly are usually either stillborn or die shortly after birth. Another type of defect, Chiari malformation, causes the brain tissue to extend into the spinal canal.

The exact causes of neural tube defects aren't known. You're at greater risk of having an infant with a neural tube defect if you

  • Have obesity
  • Have poorly controlled diabetes
  • Take certain antiseizure medicines

Getting enough folic acid, a type of B vitamin, before and during pregnancy prevents most neural tube defects.

Neural tube defects are usually diagnosed before the infant is born, through lab or imaging tests. There is no cure for neural tube defects. The nerve damage and loss of function that are present at birth are usually permanent. However, a variety of treatments can sometimes prevent further damage and help with complications.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Start Here

  • (March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in

Diagnosis and Tests

  • Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) Test From the National Institutes of Health (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in
  • (American Association for Clinical Chemistry)

Prevention and Risk Factors

Treatments and Therapies

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in

Related Issues

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in

Specifics

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) - Short Summary
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) Also in
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in
  • (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

Genetics

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Library of Medicine)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Library of Medicine)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Library of Medicine)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Library of Medicine)

Statistics and Research

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in
  • (National Center for Health Statistics)

Clinical Trials

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)
  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institutes of Health)

Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)

Find an Expert

  • From the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) Also in
  • (National Society of Genetic Counselors)
  • (American Academy of Pediatrics) Also in
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  • From the National Institutes of Health Also in

Patient Handouts

more information

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