Meningocele repair is an operation used to address a spinal birth defect. If your newborn’s spine didn’t develop correctly, an abnormal opening may be present and this operation may be necessary. This procedure may also be performed if a small, swollen sac or cyst protrudes from the newborn’s spinal column.
The procedure usually takes place within 12 to 48 hours of a baby’s birth. During the procedure, the surgeon will drain the excess spinal fluid from the sac, close the opening, and repair the area of the defect. This will allow the child to grow and develop normally.
Newborns diagnosed with a birth defect called spina bifida may need this operation. These babies experience a defect in the formation of the spine. This typically happens during the first trimester. This defect affects the spinal cord and the fluid-filled sac that surrounds the spinal cord. Sometimes, this defect can affect the surrounding nerves.
Certain diagnostic tests performed during pregnancy can detect spina bifida before the baby is born. Blood tests performed between 15 and 20 weeks can reveal if the fetus is at risk of a neural tube defect. A prenatal ultrasound that takes images of the fetus’ tissues and organs may also lend some insight.
An amniocentesis test may also be performed. During this test, the doctor will examine a small amount of amniotic fluid. This test can most accurately diagnose the presence of a neural tube defect. The neural tube is the precursor to the child’s central nervous system.
Once the baby is born, a sac protruding from the spinal cord is usually visible. This can confirm an earlier diagnosis of spina bifida. The doctor may use X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to further examine the baby’s spine. This can ensure a correct diagnosis.
Meningocele is a type of spina bifida. About 1,500 babies are born with this condition each year. The defect can happen anywhere along the spine where the neural tube doesn’t close as it should. This leaves an opening in the spine.
There are three main types of spina bifida.
Spina Bifida Occulta
This is considered to be a mild form of the defect. The spinal cord and surrounding structures are still inside the baby, but the bones of the lower back fail to form normally. This leaves a hairy patch or dimple over the affected area of the spine.
This is seen as mild to moderate and is the least common. A small, moist sac or cyst protrudes through the gap in the spine. This sac contains a portion of the spinal cord membrane (meninges) and some spinal fluid. The sac may be covered with skin or part of the spinal cord membrane. The sac contains little or no nerve tissue.
This is a severe form of spina bifida. The spinal cord and nerves develop outside the baby’s body. This results in weakness and loss of sensation below the defect. It can interfere with bowel or bladder function or cause fluid to build up in the brain.
Once the baby is diagnosed with meningocele, the doctor will most likely schedule surgery as soon as possible. An early surgery may prevent infection, swelling, and further damage to the spinal cord. Until the surgery, the defect will be covered with a sterile dressing. Your child may be transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit.
During the surgery, general anesthesia will be used to make sure the baby is asleep and experiences no pain. The surgeon will make an incision in the sac or cyst in order to drain some of the excess fluid. The spinal cord is then covered with the membranes for protection. The surgeon will then close the incision.
Your baby will usually require about two weeks of recovery time in the hospital after surgery. Doctors will administer antibiotics to prevent infection. Additional tests, such as MRIs or ultrasounds, may be performed to ensure that the surgery site is healing normally. These tests can detect any swelling or fluid buildup (hydrocephalus) that may develop after the defect is repaired. Nurses will position the baby so that baby lies on the stomach in order to avoid putting pressure on the wound.
Results will depend on the amount of damage done to the baby’s spinal nerves. Since meningocele typically doesn’t damage any of the neural tissues, surgery usually has excellent results. Babies rarely have any lasting disabilities or brain, nerve, or muscle problems caused by a meningocele.
As with any surgery that involves general anesthesia, this procedure carries a small risk of allergic reactions to the anesthesia medication. Although bleeding, infection, and fluid build up are rare, they’re possible. Your doctor will advise you about how to care for your baby at home. Your doctor will also tell you which symptoms to watch for in order to determine if there are any complications.
You may also be referred to a team of medical experts in spina bifida who will follow up with you and your baby after you leave the hospital. These professionals will work with you to help detect any additional problems. Problems may indicate muscle weakness, speech problems, or other potential issues related to the neural tube defect.
There isn’t any one cause of spina bifida. Your genetic makeup plays the most significant role. Getting enough folic acid during pregnancy has been shown to help prevent the condition.
Sources of folic acid include:
- whole grains
- fortified breakfast cereals
- dried beans
- green leafy vegetables
- egg yolks
- citrus fruits
- fruit juices
During pregnancy, talk to your doctor about taking folic acid supplements.
Some medications may put you at additional risk for giving birth to a child with spina bifida. If possible, check with your doctor about your prescriptions before becoming pregnant. Diabetes and obesity also somewhat increase your risk of having a baby with meningocele. Because of this, it’s important that you maintain a healthy weight and control your blood sugar levels.