What is neural tube defects?

Neural Tube Defects
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Neural tube defect (NTD)

A neural tube defect (NTD) is a birth defect that occurs when the spine, the brain, or the bone and skin that protect them do not develop properly. Neural tube defects can be found with prenatal tests, such as ultrasound and amniocentesis.

The neural tube is the part of a developing fetus that grows into the spinal cord and brain. Normally, the bones of the skull and spine grow around the brain and spinal cord, and then skin covers the bones, creating the neural tube. A neural tube defect occurs when this process doesn't happen normally.

Taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy can reduce the chance of having a baby with neural tube defects.

The most common type of neural tube defect is spina bifida. In this condition, the spinal cord or spinal nerves bulge out through an opening in the bones of the spine. Treatment for spina bifida depends on how severe it is. Surgery may be done to repair the spinal defect or to correct other problems. Physical therapy, braces, and other treatments may be needed to help the child with problems resulting from nerve damage.

Anencephaly is a less common type of neural tube defect. In anencephaly, the baby is born with only a partially formed brain and spinal cord. This condition is always fatal. Since a baby with anencephaly won't survive, many people choose to end their pregnancy. Your doctor can talk with you about your options.

Why is folic acid important before and during pregnancy?

Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. These are major birth defects in which the baby's brain or spine is not fully formed. These birth defects usually happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, before you even know you're pregnant.

  • If you could get pregnant, consider taking a daily vitamin to make sure you get enough folic acid. For folic acid to help, you need to take it every day, starting before you become pregnant.
  • If you are pregnant and you haven't been taking a vitamin containing folic acid, start taking it right away.

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