Spina occulta bifida

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Spina bifida occulta (SBO) is a common malformation of the spine. It occurs during a baby’s development in its mother’s womb, usually in the first month of pregnancy.


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In people with this condition, the bones of the spine, called vertebrae, don’t properly close. That leaves small gaps that can expose the sensitive spinal column to injury. The spinal cord, contained within the spinal column, is responsible for the body’s movement.

Some people with SBO experience symptoms, but the vast majority have no symptoms and lead healthy lives. The condition is sometimes called hidden spina bifida because it often displays no outward signs.

According to the Spina Bifida Association, 10 to 20 percent of people have SBO. Many people with this condition don’t know they have it.


The name spina bifida occulta comes from the Latin words “spina,” meaning spine, “bifida,” meaning split, and “occulta,” meaning hidden or secret.

People with spina bifida occulta may have very mild symptoms or none at all.

Therefore, the condition is usually discovered accidentally via an X-ray or MRI scan that a person has for another reason.

Differences to open spina bifida

Open spina bifida, which is also known as myelomeningocele, is a severe congenital disability.

Those with open spina bifida are likely to have mobility issues, and experience injury and infection more frequently than people with spina bifida occulta.

A person with open spina bifida has a spinal canal that is open to varying degrees all the way along its length. Also, a sac that contains part of the spinal cord pushes out through the skin.

Spina bifida is what is known as a neural tube defect. It occurs during development prior to birth. It’s when the spinal cord, brain, or meninges (their protective covering) does not completely develop. It can be anywhere along the spine and usually can be seen in an opening in the baby’s back at birth. It may also appear as a sack of fluid that has grown outside the body on the spine. This sack may or may not include the spinal cord inside.