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A meningocele is a birth defect in which a baby's spinal cord fails to develop properly. The sac is often visible on the skin.

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What is Meningocele?

A meningocele is a birth defect where there is a sac protruding from the spinal column.

The sac includes spinal fluid, but does not contain neural tissue. It may be covered with skin or with meninges (the membranes that cover the central nervous system). The sac often is visible from the outside of the back.

Meningoceles are considered to be neural tube defects and are a form of spina bifida. It is the least common type of spina bifida. Spina bifida occurs in about 1 out of every 1,000 births.

To close meningoceles at the skull base or top of the spine, our surgeons may use the minimally invasive Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This innovative, minimally invasive technique uses the nose and nasal cavities as natural corridors to access hard-to-reach or previously inoperable tumors or lesions. Benefits of EEA include:

  • no incisions to heal
  • no disfigurement
  • faster recovery time

EEA has proven safe and effective in children. More than 100 children have been treated by UPMC skull base surgeons using EEA — more than at any other neurosurgery center in the world.

For closing meningoceles lower in the spine, our specialists use minimally invasive spine surgery techniques.

Diagnosing Meningocele

Meningoceles are typically diagnosed before birth. A doctor may make the diagnosis through:

  • Ultrasound
  • Amniocentesis
  • Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) screenings in the second trimester
  • Multiple-marking screening tests

The blood screening tests and amniocentesis can indicate a neural tube defect. The meningocele may be visible with an ultrasound.

Meningocele Treatment


Treating the meningocele involves closing the overlying meninges and the skin. Surgery is performed within a day or two of birth, and is necessary to prevent infection and to protect the exposed area of the spine.

Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA)

Meningoceles at the skull base and top of the spine can be approached directly by using the Endoscopic Endonasal Approach (EEA). This state-of-the-art, minimally invasive approach allows surgeons to access the affected area through the natural corridor of the nose, without making an open incision. Surgeons then remove the meningoceles through the nose and nasal cavities.

EEA offers the benefits of no incisions to heal, no disfigurement, and a faster recovery time.

UPMC's neurosurgical team may recommend a combination of surgical and non-surgical approaches to treat the meningocele.

For meningoceles in the lower spine, UPMC spine specialists use minimally invasive spine surgery techniques to close the sac.