Update on Urological Management of Spina Bifida from Prenatal Diagnosis to Adulthood

Devon C. Snow-Lisy, Elizabeth B. Yerkes, Earl Y. Cheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Purpose We review the current literature regarding urological management of spina bifida from prenatal diagnosis to adulthood. Materials and Methods We searched MEDLINE®, EMBASE® and PubMed® for English articles published through December 2014 using search terms "spina bifida," "spinal dysraphism" and "bladder." Based on review of titles and abstracts, 437 of 1,869 articles were identified as addressing topics related to open spina bifida in pediatric patients, or long-term or quality of life outcomes in adults with spina bifida. We summarize this literature to inform clinical guidelines and create a framework for disease management. Results The birth prevalence of spina bifida in the United States has recently plateaued at approximately 30 per 100,000. With improved management more individuals are surviving to adulthood, with an economic impact of $319,000 during the lifetime of an individual with spina bifida. Recent advances in prenatal surgery have demonstrated that prenatal closure of spina bifida is possible. To assess safety and efficacy, the National Institutes of Health sponsored Management of Myelomeningocele Study was undertaken, in which subjects were randomized to prenatal or postnatal closure. Until the urological results of this trial are published, the impact of prenatal intervention on future bladder function remains unclear. Controversy continues regarding the optimal use and timing of urodynamic studies, and the indications for initiation of clean intermittent catheterization and anticholinergics in infants and children. Many favor expectant management, while others argue for a more proactive approach. Based on the current literature, both approaches appear to protect the child from renal injury, although delayed intervention may increase rates of bladder augmentation. The current literature regarding this topic is difficult to interpret and compare due to heterogeneity of patient populations, variable outcome measures and lack of reporting of quality of life outcomes. Surgical intervention is indicated for those at risk for renal deterioration and/or is considered for children who fail to achieve satisfactory continence with medical management. Traditionally surgery concentrates on the bladder and bladder neck, and creation of catheterizable channels. For those with a hostile bladder, enterocystoplasty remains the gold standard for bladder augmentation, although use of bowel for augmentation remains suboptimal due to secondary complications, including increased risk of infections, metabolic abnormalities, neoplastic transformation and risk of life threatening perforation. Recent advances in tissue engineering technology may provide an alternative to traditional augmentation. However, recent results from phase II trials using current techniques to augment the bladder with engineered bladder tissue are disappointing. Catheterizable channels to the bladder and ascending colon further facilitate continence measures and promote independent care. While surgical reconstruction is clearly successful in improving continence, recent outcome studies have questioned the true impact of this type of surgery on quality of life. With improved survival transitional care issues, including health related independence, sexual health needs and development of a support system, are increasingly important. Transitional care remains a significant issue for which few public health measures are being quantitatively evaluated. Conclusions Despite consensus regarding early urological involvement in the care of patients with spina bifida, controversy remains regarding optimal management. Major reconstructive urological surgeries still have a major role in the management of these cases to protect the upper urinary tract and to achieve continence. However, future studies are needed to better clarify the true impact on quality of life that these interventions have on patients and their families. Transition of urological care to adulthood remains a major avenue for improvement in disease management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-296
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Urology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015


  • disease management
  • meningomyelocele
  • spinal dysraphism
  • urinary bladder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urology


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