Neural Tube Defect (NTD)

Last Updated: December 16, 2016

Definition - What does Neural Tube Defect (NTD) mean?

Neural tube defects (NDTs) are birth defects that impact the spinal cord, brain, or spine. These disorders occur in the earliest stages of embryonic development, within the first weeks of pregnancy and can cause debilitating and life threatening conditions for the fetus. NTDs impact 1 in every 3,000 fetuses.

FertilitySmarts explains Neural Tube Defect (NTD)

In the earliest stages of fetal development, a small tube called the neural tube forms. The neural tube will eventually become the baby’s brain and spinal cord. The cord begins as tiny, flat ribbon that eventually becomes hollow. A neural tube defect occurs if the tube fails to form properly. The result is severe birth defects, developmental abnormalities, and potentially fetal or infant death.

Common NTDs include:

  • Spina bifida
  • Anencephaly
  • Encephalocele

There is no exact cause of NTDs. However, researchers have gathered that potential factors include:

  • Environmental causes, including exposure to pollution and maternal smoking or drug use
  • Genetics

Other at risk factors include:

  • Family history of NTDs
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Anti-seizure medication

Neural tube defects are best avoided by taking appropriate levels of folic acid prior to and during pregnancy. Folic acid is responsible for cell growth, and a deficiency of the substance is directly related to NTDs. Foods naturally rich in folic acid include:

  • Leafy greens
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Legumes, including beans, peas and nuts
  • Fruits
  • Citrus and orange juice
  • Other grocery store items may contain synthetic folic acid, including enriched cereals, grains, and breads.

Most pregnant women need 600 mg per day of folic acid. Since is it difficult to ingest that amount through food alone, folic acid supplements are advised to ensure enough is consumed on a daily basis. Folic acid is typically included in standard prenatal vitamins

NTDs can be detected prior to birth. A quad screen blood test can indicate risk, and ultrasounds can help to identify abnormalities. If the screening identifies the presence of risk factors, additional testing may be advised, including an amniocentesis and a detailed ultrasound.

If detected before birth, prenatal surgery may be an affective way to treat a baby’s condition. Additionally, awareness of the baby’s condition allows parents to ensure delivery occurs at a hospital equipped and prepared to handle the case.

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