What Is Spina Bifida?

Baby Noor was born in Baghdad, Iraq, three months ago with a birth defect known as spina bifida. The U.S. military has arranged for her to fly to Atlanta, where Dr. Roger Hudgins of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta will perform surgery early next week.

Although the surgery may ease Baby Noor's condition, there are no guarantees she will be cured, Hudgins told United Press International.

That's because spina bifida, a birth defect where the spinal column fails to completely close during pregnancy, often requires years of extensive medical care, depending on the severity of the defect. Each year, about 3,000 women in the United States give birth to babies with this defect. The risk of having spina bifida is greatly reduced if the mother takes a daily supplement of folic acid.

In Baby Noor's case, she probably will have paralysis in both legs, and the extent of probable brain damage is unknown, according to military doctors quoted in an article by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The severity of spina bifida varies widely, but the defect frequently causes hydrocephalus, or fluid in the brain. Surgery must be done to insert a "shunt" that helps drain the fluid. The shunt remains for the patient's lifetime, according to the Spina Bifida Association.

Other conditions include full or partial paralysis, bladder- and bowel-control difficulties, learning disabilities, depression, latex allergy, and social and sexual issues.

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