Prenatal surgery may be preferable for spina bifida | Science News

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Prenatal surgery may be preferable for spina bifida

Performing an operation preterm shows better results against the neural tube defect than waiting until the baby is born

5:01pm, February 9, 2011

Delicate surgery performed on a fetus months before birth can improve the health of children born with spina bifida, a devastating neural tube defect caused by an opening in the spine, a new study shows. By comparing children who got surgery before or after birth, researchers find that a preterm operation improves the likelihood that a child with spina bifida will be able to walk and lessens the risk of other neurological complications.

But these potential gains must be weighed against a greater risk of premature birth associated with surgery in the womb. The findings appear online February 9 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study focused on women carrying fetuses diagnosed with myelomeningocele, the most common and most severe form of spina bifida, in which the spinal cord bulges outside the spinal column. The condition can result in lifelong cognitive disabilities, fluid on the brain, bowel problems and paralysis. Typically surgeons operate on s

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