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How Failure to Prescribe Folic Acid Can Lead to Spina Bifida and Other Neural Tube Disorders

March 7, 2012

Spina bifida is a very serious developmental disorder in which a child’s neural tube (the spinal cord and its surrounding tissue) does not close completely. For this reason, it is often known as an NTD, or neural tube disorder. Other disorders that fall under this classification are anencephaly and encephaloceles. The neural tube is the structure in a maturing baby that will eventually envelop its brain and spinal cord, and its proper growth will in turn promote healthy development of the brain and spinal cord.

Research has shown that NTDs arise in the developing baby during the first 30 days of pregnancy and that women who regularly consume the B-vitamin folic acid prenatally and during the first months of pregnancy reduce their risk of having a baby with an NTD by up to 73%. Folic acid is found in small quantities in many fruits and vegetables, but major doses can be administered through neonatal vitamins that are regularly prescribed to expectant mothers.

It is important to note that in order to obtain the protective benefits of folic acid, prenatal vitamins or multivitamins need to be taken before and just after conception. By the time a woman ordinarily realizes she is pregnant, the brain and spinal cord have already developed to the point where it is too late for folic acid to be beneficial in terms of reducing the incidence of these NTDs.

Spina bifida affects a person’s spine, spinal cord, and its surrounding area and complications often involve paralysis, bowel and bladder irregularities, and altered skin sensation. Neural tube disorders also cause neurological problems the symptoms of which result in problems with memory, problem-solving, planning, mathematics, and shorter-than-normal attention spans.

Babies born with an encephalocele suffer from a hole in their skull out of which part of the brain grows. Babies born with encephaloceles have a variety of problems depending on where and how large the hole in the skull is, and how badly damaged the portion of brain is that protrudes through the hole. This condition can also cause the brain not to develop properly, which can result in death in some cases.

Due to the aforementioned problems NTDs can cause, it has become the medical standard of care to recommend multivitamin supplements containing folic acid to all women of childbearing age who are sexually active. It is a doctor’s responsibility to tell his or her patients about the dangers of neural tube disorders; failure to do so is a medical error.

Certainly, any woman who is planning to become pregnant while under a physician’s care should be prescribed prenatal vitamins or multivitamins before attempting to get pregnant. Despite everything the medical community has learned, however, studies show most women are still not getting enough folic acid when they become pregnant and about half the women in the United States do not even know that folic acid can help prevent birth defects. If all women of childbearing age in the United States were getting sufficient folic acid in their diets, hundreds of cases of NTDs could be prevented each year. These fatal and/or crippling birth defects currently affect about one in a thousand pregnancies in the U.S.

If you or someone you know was pregnant with a child with a neural tube disorder and a doctor failed to prescribe sufficient folic acid, there may be a claim on behalf of the child. The baby is likely to need extraordinary medical and surgical care and rehabilitation, all of which carry large expenses.

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