Spina bifida occulta

What is it?

A variety of spinal cord abnormalities fall under the definition of latent spina bifida, which are usually the more benign form, but can lead to serious problems if left untreated.

Some of these anomalies are:

  • spinal cord fixation;
  • terminal filament lipoma;
  • dermal sinus.

Which are the symptoms?

A common factor for these conditions is that the spinal cord cannot move freely up the spinal canal, following the normal growth of the spinal column in which it is located, because it remains fixed at the level of the last lumbar vertebrae. This obstruction causes the nerve fibers to “stretch” like elastic threads and gradually lose their function, causing sensory and movement disorders in the lower extremities, impaired sphincter control and often low back pain radiating to the lower extremities as well.

Skin abnormalities of the lumbosacral region, visible at birth (pigmented spots, tufts of hair, lipomas, small growths or dimples, mostly along the midline) also occur due to these abnormalities.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnostic algorithm includes ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the spinal cord and sometimes the brain in order to exclude associated brain malformations.

Suggested exams

How is it treated?

Most cases require surgical intervention, which, if possible, should be performed before symptoms or signs of neurologic dysfunction appear.

Surgical techniques vary depending on the underlying malformation, but in any case, they can improve or at least stop the progression of symptoms in more than 80% of symptomatic cases.

The average hospital stay after surgery is one week.

One month after surgery, the patient undergoes further outpatient examinations; a follow-up magnetic resonance imaging of the spinal cord is also indicated approximately once a year.

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