What is Syringomyelia?
Normally, the spinal cord and brain are bathed in a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid. Syringomyelia is an accumulation of spinal fluid that actually forms within the spinal cord. This accumulation is called a syrinx. Most of the time, syringomyelia is caused by Chiari malformations
, which is a birth defect of the back and lower part of the brain. Sometimes syringomyelia is caused by hydrocephalus
, tethered spinal cord, tumor or other rare causes.
The symptoms of syringomyelia are very variable, and often progress slowly over years. Classic findings include:
- Sensory loss in a “cape” distribution (over the tops of the shoulders); loss of pain and temperature sensation without loss of touch and position sense
- Neck pain and pain in the back of the head
- Pain in legs and arms, and hands and feet
- Hand and arm weakness and loss of muscle function
- High muscle tone in the arms and legs (spasticity)
- Sleep apnea
Syringomyelia is diagnosed with MRI. Small syrinxes or hydromyelia in the spinal cord can be a normal finding.
Large syringomyelia requires surgical treatment. The treatment is directed at the cause of the syrinx, such as Chiari I malformation, or Tethered cord
, rather than the syrinx itself.