If a tooth is missing from a zipper, or if something gets caught between the teeth, the zipper will not close properly. Spina bifida literally means 'split spine'. Therefore a zipper makes for a good comparison. In spina bifida the spine and the spinal cord inside of it are not fully closed. It is also referred to as a neural tube defect. The vertebral arches that should surround the spinal cord remain open. At birth an open wound will be visible on the spine. Nerves will be damaged or will not be developed correctly.
The consequenses of spina bifida will vary and are difficult to predict. In general, the lower the defect, the less serious the consequences. The spinal cord acts like a telephone cable, transmitting messages between the brain and the various body parts. When it is damaged problems may occur and messages are not being forwarded or being delivered incomplete:
• Paralysis and numbness may occur below the lesion: buttocks, legs, and feet, but also bladder and sphincter.
• Problems with urine and faecal management and control, resulting in incontinence.
• If incontinence is not looked after properly, it may result in bladder and kidney damage.
• The drain of fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord can be disturbed, which leads to Hydrocephalus ('water on the brain').
Why is spina bifida so common in developing countries?
The experience gained in our projects teaches us that spina bifida and hydrocephalus are more common in developing countries. Spina bifida is a result of a vitamin deficiency (folic acid in particular) of the mother during pregnancy. Due to the unbalanced, poor nutrition of people in developing countries, spina bifida occurs far more often in the South than in the Western world.