What Is the Neural Tube?

I keep hearing about neural tube defects, but what exactly is the neural tube?
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BySharon Phelan, MD
OB-GYN
Updated
Jan 2017
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The neural tube is what eventually becomes the brain and spinal cord. In the early days of pregnancy, the embryo is basically a ball of cells. That “ball” folds in on itself as the cells start to form different body parts. The inner cells form a tube-like structure that is called the neural tube. The neural tube typically closes — or forms a complete tube — by the fourth week of pregnancy. If the tube doesn’t fully close for some reason, the baby is said to have a neural tube defect. Common neural tube defects include spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele.

Taking enough folic acid before and during pregnancy can help decrease the chances of a neural tube defect. Because neural tube development happens before most women even know they’re pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control recommend that all women of childbearing age eat a diet high in folic acid or take a multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid daily.

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