Adult Spina Bifida & Bladder Exstrophy 

Spina bifida (SB) is a type of neural tube defect in which the spinal cord does not fully develop. There are three main types of spina bifida: 

  • Spina bifida occulta 
  • Meningocele 
  • Myelomeningocele  

Bladder exstrophy (BE) is a congenital anomaly in which the bladder is inside out and formed outside of the body.  

Although surgery can reduce the complications of spina bifida and bladder exstrophy in children, the effects of each condition can last long into adulthood. 

Causes of Spina Bifida & Bladder Exstrophy 

Although there are no known causes of spina bifida or bladder exstrophy, certain genetic and environmental factors are believed to increase the risk of being born with these conditions. 

Risk factors for spina bifida include: 

  • Folate deficiency 
  • Pre-pregnancy obesity in the mother 
  • A family history of neural tube defects  

Factors that may increase the likelihood of bladder exstrophy include: 

  • Race (whites have the greatest risk) 
  • Sex (bladder exstrophy is more prevalent in males than females) 
  • Being a first-born child  

Symptoms of Spina Bifida & Bladder Exstrophy Experienced in Adulthood 

Common symptoms found in adults with spina bifida include: 

  • Difficulty controlling the bladder and bowels 
  • Hydrocephalus 
  • Tethered spinal cord 
  • Increased risk of developing osteoporosis and arthritis 

Long-term effects of bladder exstrophy may include: 

  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • The inability to have children 
  • Abnormal genital development  

Diagnosing Spina Bifida & Bladder Exstrophy 

Spina bifida can often be diagnosed during pregnancy. Tests used to detect the condition include: 

  • Blood tests used to measure alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels (women carrying a fetus with spina bifida tend to have higher levels of AFP) 
  • Ultrasounds (sonograms) used to identify defects in the spinal cord 
  • Amniocentesis, which involves removing fluid from the womb and testing it to measure protein levels 

Bladder exstrophy can also be detected during pregnancy. However, in many instances the condition can go undetected, at which point diagnosis occurs at birth. 

Treatments for Adults With Spina Bifida & Bladder Exstrophy 

At Tampa General Hospital, our team of urologists work to form treatment plans that are best suited for each individual patient. Surgery, physiotherapy and medication may be used to treat the effects of spina bifida.  

Similarly, treatment for bladder exstrophy may include reconstructive surgery that: 

  • Closes the bladder and abdominal wall 
  • Repairs a flattened penis 
  • Aims to prevent urine leakage