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What causes neural tube defects?

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The exact causes of neural tube defects are not known. Many different factors are likely to play a role, including genetics, nutrition, and environmental factors.

Research studies have found that getting enough folic (pronounced FOH-lik) acid (also known as folate or vitamin B9) before and during pregnancy can greatly reduce the risk of spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

Well-established evidence shows that women who are obese, have poorly controlled diabetes, or take certain antiseizure medications, such as phenytoin (Dilantin), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and valproic acid (Depakote), or anti-folate (such as aminopterin) are at greater risk than are other women of having an infant with spina bifida or anencephaly1, 3 Some studies suggest that neural tube defects and miscarriage are more common among fetuses of women who experience high temperatures (such as using a hot tub or sauna or having a fever) during the first 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy.1, 2, 3 Women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant should avoid using hot tubs or saunas.


  1. Moretti, M. E., Bar-Oz, B., Fried, S., & Koren, G. (2005). Maternal hyperthermia and the risk for neural tube defects in offspring: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Epidemiology, 16, 216–219. [top]
  2. Chescheir, N., & American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Practice Bulletins-Obstetrics. (2003). ACOG Practice Bulletin: Neural tube defects, Number 44. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 83, 123–133. [top]
  3. Mayo Clinic. (2010). Pregnancy week by week: Is it safe to use a hot tub during pregnancy? Retrieved July 23, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pregnancy-and-hot-tubs/an02109 External Web Site Policy [top]

Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 11/30/2012
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