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Glossary of Spina Bifida Terminology


Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP) - High levels of this protein in the mother's blood or amniotic sac often associated with neural tube defect.

Ambulatory - Capable of walking.

Amniocentesis - A process by which the amniotic (or fetal) sac is punctured by a needle and fluid removed. The amniotic fluid removed can be studied for detection of neural tube defects and chromosomal abnormalities.

Anomaly - An organ existing in abnormal form, structure or location.

Catheter - A tube used to remove fluid from a cavity. A urinary catheter is passed through the urethra into the bladder in order to withdraw urine.

Chiari Malformation -The Chiari (II) is a malformation of the hindbrain, or brainstem associated with myelomeningocele and can cause hydrocephalus and other symptoms. The cerebellum may be elongated and drop down along the lower brainstem, through the case of the skull and into the cervical canal: the fourth ventricle may be elongated and enter the cervical canal. Although most people with myelomeningocele have Chiari Malformation, it is estimated that only 20-30 percent become symptomatic.

Congenital - Existing from birth.

Folic Acid - A "B" vitamin which is necessary to form essential body proteins and genetic materials. It promotes the synthesis of the oxygen-carrying blood protein hemoglobin.

Hydrocephalus - The increased accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the ventricles of the brain.

Incontinence - The inability to control urine or bowel movements.

Meningocele - A protrusion of the meninges out of an opening in the vertebral column.

Myelomeningocele - An "open spine" is a protrusion of the meninges, spinal cord and nerves out of an opening in the vertebral column. Skin, or a thin membrane may cover this spinal cord defect. Known also as spina bifida.

Neural Tube Defect - A birth defect somewhere in the neural tube, which consists of the brain and spinal cord.

Neurogenic bladder - Loss of nerve supply to the bladder resulting in an inability to voluntarily control the bladder.

Shunt - A system to control hydrocephalus. It consists of a one-way valve and a small plastic tube, one end of which is placed on one of the ventricles where cerebrospinal fluid is formed. The plastic tube is then placed under the skin behind the ear, where it is passed between the skin and underlying bone and muscle and into the abdominal cavity. The cerebrospinal fluid, which is passed into the abdominal cavity, is then reabsorbed into the bloodstream.

Spina Bifida - Failure of the spine to close. Lay-term for myelomeningocele.

Spina bifida cystica - A term covering both miningocele and myelomeningocele where the meninges protrude through the bifida (split) spinal column forming a sac or cyst filled with cerebrospinal fluid.

Spina bifida occulta - Failure of one or more vertebrae to close with the skin intact and no sac visible on the back. A child with spina bifida occulta usually has no problems, and the defect may go undetected until a routine x-ray is taken.

Spinal cord - A column of nervous tissue, which is located within the vertebral column and directly connected to the brain. All nerves to the trunk and extremities are located within the spinal cord. The brain controls muscles of the body through nerves in the spinal cord.

Tethering - Binding of spinal cord to surrounding tissue.

Ultrasound - The use of high frequency sound wave echos to outline the shape of various tissues and organs in the body. Ultrasound is frequently used in prenatal care to establish the baby's due date, whether there is more than one baby, or detect some birth defects such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

Ventricle shunt - A tube placed within the ventricles and used to prevent brain damage by draining excess fluid from the ventricles to another part of the body.

Vertebrae - The bony segment of the spinal column. 33 vertebrae make up the vertebral column or backbone.