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Prenat Diagn. 2009 Apr;29(4):402-11. doi: 10.1002/pd.2250.

Prenatal screening and diagnosis of neural tube defects.

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  • 1Fetal Medicine Department, Leazes Wing, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 4LP, UK.


This review article discusses prenatal screening and diagnosis of neural tube defects (NTD). High detection rates occur in countries operating ultrasound screening programmes because classical two-dimensional ultrasound cranial signs (lemon shaped head, banana cerebellum, ventriculomegaly) are important diagnostic clues to the presence of spina bifida. Careful evaluation of both the spine and a search for other abnormalities is warranted. Important prognostic information for spina bifida relates to the lesion level, with a "watershed" between L3 and L4 marking a very high chance of being wheelchair bound with the higher lesions. Three-dimensional ultrasound using multiplanar views can achieve diagnostic accuracy within one vertebral body in around 80% of patients. There are high rates of pregnancy termination for spina bifida in many European countries, but the use of new imagining techniques allow better prediction of outcome, and consequently a refinement of prenatal counselling.

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