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Open neural tube defects

The neural tube is a structure that develops into a baby’s spinal cord and brain. The tube is open early in the pregnancy and normally closes as the embryo develops. When the tube fails to close properly, it results in an opening. Severity varies depending upon the size and position of the opening.

An open neural tube defect causes a range of disabilities from paralyzed legs to incomplete brain development. Lack of closure above the neck results in anencephaly or encephalocele. Lack of closure below the neck results in spina bifida. Most babies born with an open neural tube defect are born into families with no previous history of open neural tube defects. However, the risk for having a child with an open neural tube defect is increased:

  • if a close relative is affected
  • if there is a history of diabetes in the birth mother
  • with the use of certain medications

Supplemental use of folic acid prior to and early in the pregnancy significantly decreases the risk of an open neural tube defect. View testing options