Neural Tube Defects During Pregnancy: What Should You Know?

The nervous system is a very important structure in the human body. It is one of the first things that develop during the foetal stage. These organs start off as a small tissue known as a neural tube.

This article will tell discuss a condition known as a neural tube defect which affects the most important organs of the foetus, i.e., the brain, spinal cord and nerves.

What Are Neural Tube Defects?

During the early stage in pregnancy when the foetus is growing, a neural tube develops, usually within two weeks of conception. This tube is a small ribbon-like structure which later develops into the brain, spinal cord and nerves.

Due to some factors, this neural tube develops an abnormality which results in a lot of complication in the development of the brain, spinal cord and nerves as well. A group of such defects affecting these vital organs is known as neural tube defects.
This condition is most probably caused during the first month of pregnancy itself. There are basically two types of neural tube defects- spina bifida and anencephaly.

In spina bifida, the spinal column in the foetus doesn't close properly and protrudes outside the body. This leads to nerve damage which may cause paralysis of the legs and poor control over stools and bladder. This is the most common form of neural tube defect.

Anencephaly is a more severe form of the condition, where some portions of the brain extend to the spinal cord. This means that almost half of the brain isn't developed, which affects the functioning of the other half as well. Babies born with this condition are stillborn or do not survive for long.

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What Are The Causes Of Neural Tube Defects?

Neural birth defects are quite common. The chances of a baby being born with a neural tube defect are 1 in 1000.

Neural birth defects are caused due to a variety of reasons, most common one being genetics. If anyone in the family, even extended family, has given birth to a baby with neural tube defects, your chances automatically increase. Other common causes of neural tube defect in babies are understood to be:

Folic acid deficiency

Folic acid or vitamin B is very important for the healthy development of the foetus. This is exactly why doctors prescribe you to start with folic acid supplements if you are planning a baby. The folate is important to sustain the healthy development of the cytoskeleton, which ultimately forms the nervous system. Complications arise when there is not much folate in the mother's body.

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Gestational diabetes

A mother suffering from severe gestational diabetes is said to have higher chances of giving birth to a baby with neural tube defect as the genes responsible for the condition is directly affected due to diabetes.

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Medications during pregnancy

Sometimes, certain medications can interfere with the organ development of the foetus. Medications most commonly given to control seizures in the mother increases the risk of neural tube defects in the baby.

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Smoking

Nicotine and smoke are known to destroy the folate reserves in the mother's body, and increase her chances to give birth to a baby with a neural tube defect.

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How Is Neural Tube Defect Diagnosed?

Neural tube defect is easily detected through an ultrasound after 15 weeks of the pregnancy. If a doctor detects an abnormality, a detailed ultrasound called as the anomaly scan in the 18 weeks of pregnancy can be done to understand the exact type of neural tube defect that the foetus has.

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Can Neural Tube Defects Be Treated?

There are treatment options available for some forms of neural tube defects. Your doctor will be best able to tell you the exact recourse to be taken for the betterment of your baby and you.

Treatments available for neural tube defects such as mild spina bifida include:

  • Cases with open spina bifida where there is a hole in the spinal cord or if it is protruding out of the body can be corrected through surgery.
  • Another form of neural tube defect where there is an accumulation of fluid in and around the brain involves implanting a small hollow tube to drain the fluid.
  • Other symptoms of neural tube defects can be treated with medications or catheters.

While milder forms of neural tube defects can be treated, a more severe form such as anencephaly has no treatments option available as babies are not known to survive for long.

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Are Neural Tube Defects Known To Cause Miscarriages?

There are no records that suggest that neural tube defects cause miscarriages. Usually, babies with the condition are born normally. Only babies with a severe form of the condition die shortly after birth. Also, most people decide to end their pregnancy if they find out that their baby is suffering from a severe neural the defect and has no chances of surviving after being born.

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How To Prevent Neural Tube Defects?

The easiest way of preventing neural birth defect is to ensure that you consume enough amounts of folic acid, before and during pregnancy. Supplements as well as consuming foods rich in folic acid can help you fulfil your daily requirement of 500 mcg of folic acid per day.

It is also important to gather information from your family to know if there was any birth with neural tube defects in family history.

Women taking medications to control seizures should talk to their doctor about continuing the medicines during pregnancy.

The news about your baby suffering from neural tube defect can be devastating. However, talking to your doctor about the best possible options will help you overcome the situation.

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