Spina bifida

Spina bifida, also known as an open spine, is a congenital malformation of the spine and spinal cord.

Spina bifida is often diagnosed during pregnancy during an ultrasound examination as part of first trimester screening.

In the open form (spina bifida aperta), the vertebral arch is split. The spinal cord membranes or parts of the spinal cord bulge outwards. Spina bifida is visible immediately after birth. The closed form (spina bifida occulta) is often only discovered by chance and can (initially) be asymptomatic. Although the vertebral arch is split, the spinal meninges or spinal cord are not usually affected.


The symptoms that occur with spina bifida can vary greatly. Whether and to what extent the malformation affects the baby depends on the location and extent of the malformation;

  • Occurrence in the thoracic or lumbar spine
  • Protrusion of parts of the spinal cord and
  • Nerves on the outside.

Fetal surgery

As one of the few clinics in Europe, the University Hospital Zurich is able to surgically close spina bifida aperta before birth. This so-called fetal surgery is performed by an interdisciplinary team of surgeons from the University Children’s Hospital and colleagues from obstetrics and anesthesia. For further information, please refer to the website of the Spina bifida Center (SBZ).


Newborns with an open back that was closed before birth are monitored in our clinic after birth. After a few days, the patient is usually transferred to the University Children’s Hospital, where final examinations are carried out before the patient is discharged home.

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