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How often do neural tube defects occur?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

In the United States, neural tube defects occur in about one out of every 1,000 pregnancies. That means a baby in the United States has about a one tenth of 1 percent chance of being born with a neural tube defect. Approximately 1,500 babies are born with spina bifida, the most common type of neural tube defect, in the United States each year.

Each year in the United States, 3,000 pregnancies are affected by spina bifida or anencephaly, which are neural tube defects (NTDs) caused by the incomplete closing of the spine and skull. Worldwide, more than 300,000 babies are born with neural tube defects each year.

Neural tube defects occur when the bones of the spine do not correctly form, leaving the spinal cord and its nerves and coverings to protrude out through the skin (or lie just beneath it). The use of folate vitamins during pregnancy has decreased the incidence of neural tube defects. However many children still suffer from myelodysplasia (which includes myelomeningocele, occult spina bifida, etc.). Since the bladder and the urinary sphincters function under neurologic control from the spinal cord, damage to the spinal cord can result in lower urinary tract dysfunction which, if untreated, can lead to renal damage.

Frequent infections, incontinence, and urinary frequency are common symptoms of neural tube defects.

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