What is a Neural Tube Defect? How Is It Treated? (2023 Updated)

What is a Neural Tube Defect? How Is It Treated?

A neural tube defect (NTD) is a birth defect that affects the development of the brain, spine, and spinal cord. NTDs can range in severity and cause physical and intellectual disabilities. Common types of NTDs include spina bifida and anencephaly.

NTDs can be treated with surgery, medications, and physical therapy. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the NTD, as well as the individual’s age. Early detection and treatment of NTDs can improve outcomes and quality of life.

If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider about ways to prevent NTDs. This may include taking folic acid supplements and following a healthy pregnancy diet.

What is a Neural Tube Defect?
What is a Neural Tube Defect?

What is a Neural Tube Defect? How Is It Treated?

Neural tube defects (also called NTDs) are congenital defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. They change the shape or function of one or more parts of the baby’s body.

Birth defects can cause problems with overall health, how the body develops, or how the body functions, and they happen during the first month of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

A baby’s neural tube normally starts out as a small, flat strip that turns into a tube by the end of the first month of pregnancy. If the tube is not completely closed, a Neural Tube Defect may occur. This can cause serious problems for babies, including death.

neural tube defect and its treatment

How Often Does a Neural Tube Defect Occur?

Neural Tube Defects occur in 3000 pregnancies in the United States each year.

Various studies investigating the frequency of NTDs in Turkey state that this frequency is around 3 per 1000 live births. This value indicates that NTD is common in our country. According to a study conducted in university clinics, this frequency is;

  • It is the highest in Northern and Eastern Anatolia (4.32 and 4.54 per thousand live births, respectively).
  • It is lowest in Western Anatolia (2.17 per thousand live births).
  • Also, Hispanic (Latin, Central, South American, or Hispanic) women are more likely to have a baby with NTD than non-Hispanic women.

What are the Neural Tube Defect Types?

The two most common NTDs are; spina bifida and anencephaly .

If your baby has spina bifida, the small bones of the spine do not close completely and part of the spinal cord passes through the spine. Children with spina bifida cannot move their legs as if they are paralyzed and may have problems controlling their bladder and bowels when going to the toilet.

Anencephaly is one of the most severe neural tube defects.

Anencephaly occurs when the upper part of the neural tube that forms the brain does not completely close. Babies with this condition are missing important parts of the brain, skull, and scalp. Babies with anencephaly usually die either at birth or shortly after birth.

Girls are 3 times more likely to have anencephaly than boys.

Getting enough folic acid before and during early pregnancy helps prevent your baby’s neural tube defects. Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for normal growth and development.

What Causes Neural Tube Defect (NTDs) ?

The exact cause of neural tube defects is not known. Experts think it may be due to genetics. So this means that this condition can be passed from parents to children through genes.

Because genes; It is part of the cells that store instructions for how our bodies grow, look, and work.

Neural tube defects can also be caused by the living environment. Everything you interact with affects your daily life, including things like where you live, where you work, the food you eat, and how you want to spend your time. Certain things in your environment, such as certain medications for your pregnancy like cigarette smoke, air pollution are also harmful to mother and baby.

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Are You at Risk of Having a Baby with a Neural Tube Defect?

Any woman can have a baby with NTD. However, there are things that can make other women more likely to have such a baby. These are called risk factors.

If You Have These Risk Factors, You Are At High Risk For Neural Tube Defects;

  • If you have a baby with NTD, you have a 2-3% chance of having a baby with the same condition in another pregnancy .
  • If you or your partner or one of your family members has a Neural Tube Defect, it means that your family has a history of this disease.

Other Risk Factors for Neural Tube Defects are as follows;

  • It can pose a risk if you take certain anti-seizure medications .

Do not use drugs without consulting your doctor, as you do not know how the drugs to be taken to prevent seizures will affect your pregnancy.

  • Some studies show that being obese increases the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect.
  • Diabetes is a medical condition that describes the rise of glucose (sugar) level in the blood above normal, and consequently the presence of sugar in the urine , which should not normally contain sugar. It; can damage certain organs in your body, including blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys.

Attention! If your diabetes is uncontrolled, you may have an increased risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect.

  • You are at risk if you use opioids during the first 2 months of pregnancy. Opioids are highly addictive drugs. If you take any opioid-containing medication during pregnancy, it can cause serious problems for your baby, such as premature birth and drug withdrawal called neonatal withdrawal syndrome (also called NAS).
  • If you have a high body temperature in the early part of your pregnancy, this also poses a risk. This could be a high fever, a very hot tub, or spending too much time in a sauna. If you are pregnant, you should avoid hot tubs and saunas, or you can limit the time of use to 10 minutes.

How Can You Help Prevent Neural Tube Defects in Your Baby?

Taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects in your baby. If you are planning a pregnancy, precautions should be taken before getting pregnant to ensure that you have enough folic acid in your body.

To help prevent risk to your baby, you should take a vitamin supplement containing 400 mcg of folic acid every day before pregnancy. It is usually sufficient to start taking 400 mcg of folic acid every day at least 1 month before getting pregnant. Even if you are not going to become pregnant, you should take a daily folic acid supplement.

Can You Get Folic Acid From Food?

You can also get folic acid from some foods fortified with folic acid. You should check product labels to see how much folic acid each meal contains.

folic acid

Some of these products are;

  • Bread
  • Breakfast Cereal
  • Cornflour
  • And
  • Pasta
  • white rice
  • Lentil
  • Bean
  • Spinach
  • Green leafy vegetables such as lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Peanuts (Do not consume if you are allergic to peanuts.)
  • Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit
  • Orange juice (100% juice is best.)

If you want to learn more you should definitely read our “Folic Acid and Its Importance During Pregnancy” article.

It is very difficult to get all the amount of folic acid you need from food. After eating these foods, you should also take vitamin pills with folic acid supplements.

Can You Find Out If Your Baby Has Neural Tube Defect Before Birth?

You can have prenatal tests called screening tests to find out if your baby has a neural tube defect.

These tests are;

  • Maternal blood screening: It is called a quad screen because it measures four substances in the mother’s blood. The test is done between weeks 15 and 22 of pregnancy.
  • Ultrasound: This test uses sound waves and a computer screen to show a picture of your baby inside the womb. Usually 16 to 20 weeks pregnant are taken to ultrasound. 
neural tube defect and ultrasound

If even one of these indicates a risk of neural tube defects, your doctor may recommend a diagnostic test to find out if your baby has the condition.

Diagnostic tests:

  • Your doctor will take some amniotic fluid to check for birth defects such as NTD in your baby’s womb. This test is called amniocentesis and can be done at 15 to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • A detailed ultrasound of your baby’s skull and spine is performed.
neural tube defect and amniocentesis

What is Neural Tube Defect Treatment?

Since the disease is usually caused by genetics, there is no definitive method for the treatment of a neural tube defect.

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Therefore, prevention of this disease is more important. If you notice that your baby has NTD during pregnancy; you should talk to an experienced healthcare professional to learn more about your baby’s condition, delivery, and treatment options.

For example;

  • You can decide on normal or cesarean delivery. (In some cases, a cesarean may be safer for you and your baby than a normal delivery.)
  • If your baby has spina bifida, you can inquire about surgery in the womb before birth.

Surgery to repair spina bifida in the womb before delivery is more effective than surgery after delivery.

  • You may plan to deliver your baby in a hospital that specializes in caring for babies with NTD. In this way, your baby can be taken to any necessary surgery or treatment immediately after birth.

We wish you to hold your baby in your arms in good health!

Conclusion

Neural tube defects (NTDs) are serious birth defects that occur when the neural tube does not close properly during fetal development. These defects can cause problems with the brain, spine, and spinal cord, and can be life-threatening or cause lifelong disability. While the exact cause of NTDs is not always known, there are several factors that can increase the risk of these defects, including genetics, certain medications, and poor nutrition.

It is important for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to take steps to reduce their risk of NTDs, such as taking folic acid supplements, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding certain medications. Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the chances of a positive outcome for babies with NTDs, and it is important for expectant mothers to discuss any concerns with their healthcare provider. By understanding the causes and risk factors for NTDs, and taking steps to prevent or manage these defects, we can work towards a future where all babies are born healthy and free from birth defects.

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Thank you for reading our article on neural tube defects. We hope you found the information helpful and that it has given you a better understanding of these serious birth defects. If you have any thoughts or comments you would like to share with us, we would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We value the input and feedback of our readers, and we welcome any ideas or suggestions you may have. Thank you again for reading, and we hope you will continue to follow our blog for more helpful information and resources.

References

  1. “Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/ntds.html
  2. “Neural Tube Defects” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/pregnancy/neural-tube-defects
  3. “Neural Tube Defects: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment” Healthline, accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.healthline.com/health/neural-tube-defects
  4. “Neural Tube Defects” Mayo Clinic, accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/neural-tube-defects/symptoms-causes/syc-20351901
  5. “Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)” WebMD, accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.webmd.com/baby/neural-tube-defects-ntds#1
  6. “Neural Tube Defects: Understanding the Risks and Prevention” Everyday Health, accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.everydayhealth.com/pregnancy/neural-tube-defects-understanding-the-risks-and-prevention/
  7. “Neural Tube Defects: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention” The Bump, accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.thebump.com/a/neural-tube-defects
  8. “Neural Tube Defects” Baby Center, accessed January 21, 2023, https://www.babycenter.com/0_neural-tube-defects_10337484.bc

It is important to note that Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) are serious birth defects of the brain and spine that happen in the first month of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. The best way to prevent NTDs is to get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy. Consult your healthcare provider for specific information and guidance on folic acid intake and other preventive measures to help reduce the risk of NTDs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Neural Tube Defect (NTDs)

What are neural tube defects (NTDs)?

Neural tube defects (NTDs) are serious birth defects that occur when the neural tube, which becomes the brain and spinal cord, does not close properly during fetal development. NTDs can cause problems with the brain, spine, and spinal cord, and can be life-threatening or cause lifelong disability.

What causes neural tube defects?

The exact cause of NTDs is not always known, but there are several factors that can increase the risk of these defects. These include genetics, certain medications, and poor nutrition. Women who do not get enough folic acid before and during pregnancy may be at an increased risk of having a baby with an NTD.

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How can I reduce my risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect?

There are several steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a baby with an NTD. These include:

Taking a daily folic acid supplement before and during pregnancy
– Eating a healthy diet that includes foods rich in folic acid, such as leafy green vegetables and fortified grains
– Avoiding certain medications, such as valproic acid and carbamazepine, if you are planning to become pregnant

How are neural tube defects diagnosed?

Neural tube defects can be diagnosed during pregnancy through ultrasound or other tests, such as a maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) test or amniocentesis. NTDs can also be diagnosed after birth through physical examination and other tests, such as imaging studies and chromosomal testing.

Can neural tube defects be treated?

Treatment for NTDs depends on the type and severity of the defect. Some NTDs may be treated with surgery, while others may require medications.

Can neural tube defects be prevented?

Yes, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. These include taking a daily folic acid supplement before and during pregnancy, eating a healthy diet that includes foods rich in folic acid, and avoiding certain medications if you are planning to become pregnant.

Are all neural tube defects the same?

No, there are different types of neural tube defects that can affect different parts of the brain, spine, and spinal cord. These defects can range in severity, and the treatment and prognosis will depend on the specific type of defect.

What is the prognosis for a baby with a neural tube defect?

The prognosis for a baby with a neural tube defect will depend on the type and severity of the defect, as well as the timely and appropriate treatment received. Some babies with NTDs may have a good prognosis with treatment, while others may have lifelong disabilities.

Can neural tube defects be inherited?

Some neural tube defects may have a genetic component and can be inherited, but in many cases the cause is unknown. If you have a family history of NTDs or have had a baby with an NTD, you may be at an increased risk of having another baby with an NTD. It is important to discuss your family medical history with your healthcare provider.

What is spina bifida?

Spina bifida is a type of neural tube defect that occurs when the spinal cord and the bones of the spine do not form properly. This can cause problems with movement, sensation, and bowel and bladder control, and can be life-threatening or cause lifelong disability.

What is anencephaly?

Anencephaly is a serious neural tube defect that occurs when the brain and skull do not develop properly. Babies with anencephaly are born with a brain that is not fully developed and usually do not survive long after birth.

Can a neural tube defect be detected during pregnancy?

Yes, neural tube defects can be detected during pregnancy through ultrasound or other tests such as a maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) test or amniocentesis. It is important for expectant mothers to discuss any concerns with their healthcare provider and to undergo appropriate prenatal testing.

Is it possible to have a healthy pregnancy after having a baby with a neural tube defect?

Yes, it is possible to have a healthy pregnancy after having a baby with a neural tube defect. However, women who have had a baby with an NTD may be at an increased risk of having another baby with an NTD. It is important to discuss your individual situation with your healthcare provider and to take steps to reduce the risk of NTDs, such as taking folic acid supplements and maintaining a healthy diet.

What is the treatment for a baby with a neural tube defect?

Treatment for a baby with a neural tube defect will depend on the type and severity of the defect. Treatment may include surgery, medications, or physical therapy, and may be ongoing or may be needed only at certain stages of development. It is important for the baby to receive timely and appropriate treatment in order to improve the chances of a positive outcome.

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