In the first weeks of gestation, an embryo will experience rapid changes. It will begin its transformation from a clump of cells into a fetus. One essential feature that forms during this time is the neural tube.
This is what will go on to make up the tissue, nerves, and bones of the spine. The end of the neural tube will develop into the brain and the skull. When the neural tube doesn’t develop properly, it turns into a congenital neural tube defect. One such defect that results from an improperly formed neural tube is spina bifida.
Patients who suffer from spina bifida have spinal columns that have failed to close during development. This results in the nerves along the spinal column being exposed. In many cases, a sac of tissue will form around the exposed areas that are filled with nerves and parts of the spinal cord. As many as 2,000 births every year in the USA are affected by spina bifida.
Some studies show that women who are exposed to high temperatures in the early weeks of pregnancy can suffer from neural tube defects. Extremely hot temperatures such as those encountered in a spa, hot tub, or even during a long unconditioned trip can increase the chances of spina bifida developing.
A sustained high core temperature such as that experienced during a fever or illness can increase the chance of tube defects developing. Any environment that causes transient hyperthermia may cause serious fetal harm during its development. Maternal hyperthermia can cause harm from conception through the 8th week of fetal gestation.
In addition to spina bifida, a fetus can also develop other neural tube disorders such as anencephaly. There is no known exact temperature or even duration of exposure that defines what will cause a neural tube defect such as spina bifida.
Pregnant women or who are trying to become pregnant are recommended to avoid high temperatures as a precaution.