Birth defects affecting the spine are directly related to abnormalities of the neural tube. This is the fetal equivalent of the budding central nervous system and depending on a host of chromosomal mutations, environmental factors, and also systemic problems arising from maternal ingestion of hazardous substances, may be adversely affected. It is interesting to note that neural tube abnormalities may be detected as early as one month after conception.
The most well known birth defect affecting the spine is spina bifida which refers to a condition that points to an exposed, abnormally or incompletely formed spine. It is closely associated with neural tube defects that also cause anencephaly, a birth defect affecting the brain which is fatal.
While in the past this birth defect was almost always considered a death sentence, modern science has showcased that with surgery it can be remedied to such an extent as to allow for the leading of a normal life.
Unlike many other birth defects, this one is directly linked to a lack of folic acid in the mothers system at the time of conception, and rigorous supplementation of this substance has greatly eliminated the incidents of spina bifida.
Further testing has revealed that there are genetic components predisposing a couple to having offspring with neural tube disorders and that genetic testing will assist in ascertaining a fetus likelihood of showing symptoms of the ailment.
Of the birth defects affecting the spine, sacrococcygeal teratoma is perhaps the most benign in that it does not equate with incompatibility with life. Instead, it is a tumor that may be found in the vicinity of the tailbone and which becomes visible during ultrasound exams of the unborn child.
At times the location of the tumor leads to a mistaken assumption of spina bifida, thus having resulted in the abortion of perfectly healthy babies that simply needed a surgery to remove the mass.
At this point in time, surgical removal of the tumor after birth is the commonly chosen avenue of treatment. Depending on the size and growth of the tumor, a sacrococcygeal teratoma may be little more than a nuisance or it may turn into a life threatening medical condition for the child. Skilled monitoring by highly trained medical professionals is a must.
By and large there is no guarantee that birth defects affecting the spine and the precursor, the abnormalities seen in the neural tube formation can be avoided; however, it is clearly indicated that supplementation with folic acid prior to conception will greatly reduce the risk of certain birth defects.
Similarly, women requiring drugs to control epileptic seizures have an increased risk. The same may be true for women controlling diabetes either with injections or oral medications, even though there is no conclusive evidence that these medications will indeed affect neural tube development during the first month of pregnancy.
It is vital for women of childbearing age to be mindful of these hazards if they are sexually active, since by and large a pregnancy may go unnoticed for at least two weeks but possibly two months, during which time the most crucial first 30 days will have passed.