The physical characteristics of 49 children with spina bifida cystica, survivors of a group subjected to selection for early surgery are compared with 39 children alive from an earlier unselected series, born in the 1960s, and reviewed retrospectively. Sixteen children were also studied in whom the initial decision not to operate had been followed by survival and subsequent treatment. Children selected for initial surgery have a significantly lower mortality than those not selected and their mobility at 5 to 7 years of age is better, although only marginally so compared with the unselected group. Selection does not decrease the need for shunt treatment of the associated hydrocephalus. None of those not initially selected for surgery have normal faecal or urinary continence, whereas 35% of the selected in group have normal continence and urinary tracts. Children treated immediately have significantly higher degrees of intelligence than both the unselectively treated and those whose treatment was delayed but a fifth of the latter group were intellectually normal. There were only small differences in intelligence between children given delayed treatment and those unselectively treated, suggesting that postponing surgery does not necessarily have a deleterious effect on ability.
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