Possible Causes of Spina Bifida

Spina Bifida is the most common type of developmental defect that causes disabilities and is a health condition that is present at birth.  Spina Bifida is a Latin term that literally means “split or open spine”. 

Children born with Spina Bifida have a serious birth abnormality in which there is an incomplete fusion of the vertebral arches in the lumbar region, meaning the skin covering the spinal cord does not close completely.  Many different variations of the condition are reported. 3,7,8

Possible Causes of Spina Bifida

While there are many genetic and environmental influences that may contribute to the cause of Spina Bifida, they are not all completely known or identified.  Literature suggests that the following factors may play a role in the development of Spina Bifida:4,7,8

  • Ethnic group
  • Genes
  • Health conditions and medicines taken during pregnancy

Folic Acid

In 1992, the US Public Health Service recommended that all women of child-bearing age should consume 400mcg of folic acid daily to reduce the risk of having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects like Spina Bifida.  Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in a person's body needs for normal growth and development.  The US Public Health Service also recommends that women who have Spina Bifida, have a child or pregnancy impacted by Spina Bifida, take 4000mcg (4.0 mg) of folic acid for one to three months before pregnancy.4,7,10

As a result of the determination, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated adding folic acid to all enriched cereal grain products by January 1998.1,7  

Spina Bifida occurs worldwide, but there has been a downward trend in occurrence rates in the US since the US Food and Drug Administration mandate took effect. 7

According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year more than 1,500 babies are born in the United States with Spina Bifida.  In the US, Hispanic women have the highest rate of having a child affected by Spina Bifida compared with Non-Hispanic White and Non-Hispanic Black women.1,7,9, 10

Please note that the information provided by BARD Medical in this article is not intended to be used in place of a visit, consultation, or advice of a medical professional. 


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Data and statistics. Available online at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/spinabifida/data.html
  2. GRAY’S Anatomy Review- First Edition. Gray's Anatomy Review (Kindle Locations 15-21). Elsevier Health Sciences. Kindle Edition.
  3. March of Dimes. (2009). Birth defects: Spina Bifida. Available online at: http://www.marchofdimes.com/baby/birthdefects_spinabifida.html
  4. Spina Bifida Association. (2008). Spina Bifida. Available online at: http://tinyurl.com/3qegx2y
  5. Spina Bifida Association –National Resource Center. Folic Acid. Available on-line http://www.spinabifidaassociation.org/atf/cf/%7B85F88192-26E1-421E-9E30-4C0EA744A7F0%7D/Folic%20Acid.pdf
  6. Ozek M, Cinalli G, Maixner W, The Spina Bifida Management and Outcomes, Springer Milan Berlin Heidelberg New York, 2008
  7. Rekate H MD, Comprehensive Management of Spina Bifida, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Ann Arbor, Boston, 2006
  8. Clinical Neuroanatomy 27th Edition, McGraw-Hill Education, 2013
  9. Agopian AJ, etal. Spinal Bifida Subtypes and Sub Phenotypes by Maternal Race, Ethnicity in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, Am J Med Genet Part A 158A:109-115, 2011

Information is as of 12/2014. Please check references for updated information.