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Types of Spina Bifida

The three main types of spina bifida that are always present at birth are: 
Spina Bifida Cystica (cyst-like), Spina Bifida Occulta and Encephalocele.

Spina Bifida Cystica

The visible signs of spina bifida cystica are a sac or cyst, rather like a large blister on the back, covered bya thin layer of skin.

There are two forms:

Type one: Myelomeningocele (meningomyelocele)

Myelomeningocele is the most serious and more common of the two forms of cystic spina bifida. Here the cyst not only contains tissue and cerebro-spinal fluid but also nerves and part of the spinal cord. Thespinal cord is damaged or not properly developed. As a result, there is always some paralysis and loss of sensation below the damaged region. The amount of disability depends very much on where the spinabifida is, and the amount of affected nerve tissue involved. Bladder and bowel problems occur in mostpeople with myelomeningocele, as the nerves come from the bottom of the spinal cord, so are alwaysbelow the lesion. It is also necessary to have intact nerve pathways to the brain for complete control and sensation.

Type two: Meningocele

In this form, the sac contains meninges (tissues which cover the brain and spinal cord) and cerebro-spinal fluid, which bathes the central nervous system. Development of the spinal cord may be affected, but impairment is usually less severe than myelomeningocele. Meningocele is the least common form of spina bifida.

Spina Bifida Occulta (hidden form)
This is a mild form of spina bifida, which is very common. Estimates vary but between 5% and 10% of people may have spina bifida occulta. It must be emphasised that, for the vast majority of those affected, having spina bifida occulta is of no consequence whatsoever. Often people only become aware that they have spina bifida occulta after having a back x-ray for an unrelated problem. 
However, for a few (about 1 in 1,000) there can be associated problems.

This is a sac which is formed when the bones of the skull fail to develop. It may contain only cerebro-spinal fluid or part of the brain may also be present in the sac, resulting in brain damage.

Please note that this information provided by BARD Medical is not intended to be used in place of a visit, consultation, or advice of a medical professional.


4. March of Dimes. (2009). Birth defects: Spina Bifida. Available online at:
5. Spina Bifida Association. (2008). Spina Bifida. Available online at: