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Neural Tube Defect (NTD) – all you should know

Neural tube defects are one of the most severe birth defects that affect the nervous system. Read to know more about this congenital disease.

Written by Bhavyajyoti Chilukoti |Updated : October 8, 2014 6:57 PM IST

Neural tube defects are abnormalities of the brain, spinal cord or vertebrae that occur during the developmental stages of the fetus (mostly in the first month of pregnancy). Since these defects are present at birth, they are known as birth defects.

How does it occur?

During the initial stage of embryo development, some cells arrange to form a tube. The upper part of this tube later develops into the brain, and the reminder develops into the spinal cord. A neural defect occurs when the tube fails to close completely resulting in a hole or a malformation during this process.

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Types of neural tube defect

Spina bifida:In this type of neural tube defect, the tube doesn't close properly causing a neurological defect. It is the most common neural tube defect that results in paralysis of the nerves below the spine.

Anencephaly:It is a less common but more severe type of neural tube defect where the tube doesn't close at the top, leading to an undeveloped brain and skull. Infants born with this condition are either stillborn or do not live long after birth.

Encephalocele:A rare type of neural tube defect that results in an opening in the skull due to the incomplete closing of the neural tube near the brain.Children with this defect suffer from various physical and mental disabilities.

Iniencephaly: This is another severe, but rare type of neural tube defect in which the spinal cord is extremely distorted. Kids born with this defect, usually, die within a few hours.

Causes and risk factors

Although the exact cause of neural tube defect is still unknown, there are few factors that increase the risk of having a child with this defect. These are

  • Genetics
  • Environmental factors
  • Obesity
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Medications used to treat seizures
  • Nutritional deficiency

What else should you know?

Most neural tube defects can easily be diagnosed before the birth of an infant through laboratory tests like triple screen blood test , amniotic fluid tests orprenatal ultrasound imaging. Once diagnosed, the treatment options are determined depending on the severity of the condition and its associated complications. However, taking folic acid supplements or including foods rich in this B-complex vitamin into your diet, before and during pregnancy helps in the prevention of most neural tube defects.

Image Source: Getty images

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