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Meningocele

What Is Meningocele?

Meningocele (meh-NIN-guh-seal) is a type of spina bifida. Spina bifida (SPY-nuh BIF-ih-duh) happens when a baby's backbone (spine) does not form normally during pregnancy. The baby is born with a gap in the bones of the spine.

A meningocele is a sac that pushes through the gap in the spine. Usually, it’s covered by a thin layer of skin. The sac is made up of:

  • the meninges (meh-NIN-geez), the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord
  • spinal fluid

The spinal cord is in its normal place in the spinal canal. A meningocele can be seen on the baby's head, neck, or back.

With surgery to fix the problem, most babies with a meningocele live a healthy, normal life.

 

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Meningocele?

Most babies with a meningocele do not have any symptoms. Although it doesn’t happen very often, sometimes the nerves around the spine are damaged. This can lead to problems with movement and controlling when pee and poop comes out and other medical issues.

What Are the Other Types of Spina Bifida?

Other kinds of spina bifida include:

  • Spina bifida occulta: This is a gap in the bones in the spine, but nothing pushes through it. The meninges, spinal fluid, and spinal cord are in their normal place inside the spinal canal. There's no opening on the baby's back. 
  • Myelomeningocele: This is when a sac that contains the meninges, spinal fluid, and part of the spinal cord pushes through the gap in the spine and the skin. You can see it on the baby's back. 

What Causes a Meningocele?

All types of spina bifida happen in the first month of pregnancy. At first, a fetus' spinal cord is flat. It then closes into a tube called a neural tube. If this tube does not fully close, the baby is born with spina bifida. In meningocele, a sac containing the meninges and spinal fluid pushes through the gap in the spine.

It’s not clear why some babies get a meningocele. The condition can happen if the mother doesn’t get enough of the vitamin folic acid early in their pregnancy, or:

  • took some types of seizure medicines during pregnancy
  • already has had a baby with spina bifida
  • has diabetes

How Is Meningocele Diagnosed?

A blood test called alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) done during pregnancy can tell if a baby is at risk for a meningocele. A prenatal ultrasound or fetal MRI can show whether a baby has one.

A meningocele that's not diagnosed during pregnancy is seen when the baby is born.

How Is Meningocele Treated?

A baby born with a meningocele will need surgery. The surgeon puts the meningocele back into the spine area. Usually, no other treatment is needed.

How Can Parents Help?

Most babies with meningocele do very well. They may need regular follow-up visits with medical specialists to make sure they’re developing normally.

If your baby has a meningocele, talk to anyone on the care team if you need support. You also can find more information online at:

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date Reviewed: 01-01-2022

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