Syringomyelia is a condition in which a fluid-filled cyst forms in the spinal cord. This cyst is referred to as a syrinx. As the syrinx expands and lengthens over time, it will compress and damage part of your spinal cord from its center outward, causing symptoms such as pain, weakness, and stiffness.
Syringomyelia occurs most common in adults between the ages of 20 and 40, but it can happen to people of all ages. Men are more likely to suffer from it than women. Syringomyelia is also known as hydromyelia. Syringomyelia has a prevalence estimated at 8.4 cases per 100,000 people, with symptoms usually beginning in young adulthood.
People get this condition when the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid that protects the spinal cord and brain is blocked. It enters the central canal of the spinal cord and causes a cyst to form. Syringomyelia may have several possible causes.
However, most cases are associated with Chiari malformation—an abnormal condition in which brain tissue extends through the hole at the bottom of the skull and into the spinal canal, and obstructs the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Other causes may include:
Sometimes, it happens for reasons doctors don’t understand. They call that “idiopathic syringomyelia”.
symptoms usually develop slowly over time. Specific symptoms depend on where
the syrinx is located and how much it compresses the nerves. They may include:
- Muscle weakness and wasting (atrophy)
- Inability to feel hot or cold
- Loss of pain sensation
- Loss of reflexes
- Difficulty walking
- Bowel and bladder function problems
- Facial pain and numbness
- A curvature of the spine, or scoliosis
To diagnose your condition, doctors will first review a patient’s medical history and perform a complete physical examination. If the doctor suspects you have syringomyelia, you’ll undergo some diagnostic tests, which may include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
It is the most reliable way to diagnose syringomyelia. An MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of the spine and spinal cord. If a syrinx has developed within the spinal cord, the doctor can view it on the MRI. In some cases, a specialist will inject a dye into a blood vessel in the groin, which travels through blood vessels to the spine and reveals tumors or other abnormalities. An MRI may be repeated over time to monitor the progression of syringomyelia.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
A CT scan uses a series of X-rays to create a detailed view of your spine and spinal cord. A CT scan can help diagnose syrinxes, tumors, or hydrocephalus.
for syringomyelia depends on the severity and progression of your signs and
symptoms. Several treatment options are as follows:
In many cases, syringomyelia is discovered on an MRI scan and isn’t causing signs or symptoms. If a syrinx causes no symptoms, it may need no treatment. Your doctor will monitor the progression of the disorder with periodic MRI and neurological exams.
If your symptoms are negatively affecting your daily life signs or your symptoms rapidly worsen, the doctor will recommend medications or surgery. Medications such as gabapentin may help decrease the painful sensation of the shoulders and arms that frequently occur with syringomyelia.
The goal of surgery is to remove the pressure the syrinx places on the spinal cord and to restore the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which can help alleviate symptoms and improve nervous system function. The type of surgery depends on the underlying cause of syringomyelia.
Follow-up care after surgery is critical because syringomyelia may recur. Patients may need regular examinations, including periodic MRIs, to assess the outcome of the surgery.
Keywords: syringomyelia; hydromyelia.