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Surge in spina bifida cases prompts folic acid warning

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A surge in the number of spina bifida cases in Scotland has prompted advice urging all women of child-bearing age to take folic acid supplements.

The Scottish Spina Bifida Association (SSBA) reports that 15 babies - twice the usual number - have been born with the condition this year.

Says SSBA chairman Dr Margo Whiteford: “The spinal cord develops within the first four weeks of pregnancy, so by that stage it’s too late - if the baby’s going to have spina bifida it will already have developed it.”

The Food Standards Agency (DSA) recommends that pregnant women take 400 micrograms folic acid supplement a day until the 12th week of pregnancy.

But says Dr Whiteford: “Women do know about folic acid preventing spina bifida, but they wait until they’ve missed a period before they start taking it, which is too late

“We don’t know if this surge in numbers is down to folic acid, but we do know that most women don’t take enough folic acid at the right time.”

Spina bifida causes deformities in vertebrae in the backbone, which often lead to paralysis from the waist down and other damage to the nervous system.

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