Meningocele Spina Bifida

Spinal meningocele (sometimes called spina bifida) is one of the most common birth defects in infants. During normal in utero development, the spine (or backbone) closes around a baby’s spinal cord to protect it. In babies with meningocele, the bones do not close completely, leaving an opening where the tissues and fluid that surround the spinal cord can bulge out. If a baby doesn’t have skin covering this area when they’re born, they may need emergency surgery.

Spina bifida can be diagnosed during pregnancy or after birth, and treated with surgery and rehabilitation.



Meningocele symptoms vary depending on the size of the bulge and where it’s located on the spine. Spina bifida causes very little nerve damage, but it can cause other minor disabilities including:

  • Involuntary movements
  • Trouble with bladder control
  • Numbness


A spina bifida diagnosis is possible before the baby is born by getting screened during pregnancy. If the meningocele diagnosis isn’t made until after the baby is born, the following tests may be performed:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan 
  • Genetic analysis (to ensure the condition isn’t part of a larger underlying genetic disorder) 

Meningocele sometimes occurs alongside other medical conditions, such as:

  • Chiari malformation: This condition is a defect in the cerebellum, or the area where the spine connects with the lower part of the brain
  • Diastematomyelia, or bifid spinal cord: This condition occurs when a sharp piece of bone divides the spinal cord in two 
  • Hydrocephalus: This condition happens when the liquid surrounding the spinal cord and brain builds up, causing pressure inside the skull 
  • Tethered cord syndrome: This condition happens when the spinal cord, which normally hangs loose, fuses to the backbone

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Treatment Options

If your baby has meningocele, your Aurora care team at the Aurora Neuroscience Innovation Institute (ANII) will determine the best course of spina bifida treatment based on your child’s specific case.

Often, meningocele treatment begins with repairing the spinal defect and closing the skin over the area. After surgery, your doctors will talk with you about the follow-up care your child will need, including rehabilitation.

Because there is a greater risk of having another child with meningocele when a sibling has the condition, you may be referred to a genetic counselor to discuss future care and treatment options.

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