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Alternative Names Return to topSyrinx
Definition Return to top
Syringomyelia is damage to the spinal cord due to the formation of a fluid-filled area within the cord.
Causes Return to top
The fluid build-up seen in syringomyelia may be a result of spinal cord trauma, tumors of the spinal cord, or birth defects (specifically, "chiari malformation," in which part of the brain pushes down onto the spinal cord at the base of the skull).
The fluid-filled cavity usually begins in the neck area. It expands slowly, putting pressure on the spinal cord and slowly causing damage.
Symptoms Return to top
Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:
Exams and Tests Return to top
A neurologic examination may show loss of sensation or movement caused by compression of the spinal cord.
A spinal CT with myelogram or an MRI of the spine confirms syringomyelia and determines the exact location and extent. Often, an MRI of the head will be done to look for associated conditions including hydrocephalus (water on the brain).
Treatment Return to top
The goals of treatment are to stop the spinal cord damage from getting worse and to maximize functioning. Surgery to relieve pressure in the spinal cord may be appropriate. Physical therapy may be needed to maximize muscular function.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Untreated, the disorder gets worse very slowly, but it eventually causes severe disability. Surgical decompression usually stops the progression of the disorder, with about 50% of people showing significant improvement in neurologic function after surgical decompression.
Possible Complications Return to top
Without treatment, the condition will lead to:
Possible complications of surgery include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of syringomyelia.
Prevention Return to top
There is no known prevention, other than avoiding trauma to the spinal cord. Prompt treatment reduces progression of the disorder.
References Return to top
Feske SK, Cochrane, TI. Degenerative and compressive structural disorders. In: Goetz, CG, ed. Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 29.
Golden JA, Bonnemann CG. Etiological Categories of Neurological Diseases. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 28, part 3.Update Date: 6/19/2008 Updated by: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.