Syringomyelia is a gradual disorder in which a fluid-filled cyst, or syrinx, forms within the spinal cord. With the increase in time, the cyst grows larger, further causing compression and damage to the spinal cord. The initiation of syrinx is most likely to found in the neck (cervical spine), but can develop anywhere along the spinal cord.
Causes of Syringomyelia
Syringomyelia can be caused by, or can be a complication of:
- Birth defects, like Chiari malformation
- Hemorrhage (bleeding)
- Inflammation of the spinal cord (e.g., meningitis)
- Spinal cord injury (trauma)
- Spinal cord tumor
Diagnosis of Syringomyelia
A physical and neurologic examination may reveal loss of feeling or an inability to move normally (such as walk). Diagnostic tests of the spine may include a CT scan with contrast dye or an MRI.
Early syringomyelia detection is crucial, as a delay in treatment can cause irreversible spinal cord injury. At the first sign of symptoms, visit your doctor.
Symptoms of Syringomyelia
As the body is connected to the brain, a damaged spinal cord disturbs the brain's ability to communicate. However, each patient's symptoms may differ, common syringomyelia symptoms include:
- Pain, stiffness, or weakness in the neck, arms, back, or legs
- Progressive numbness
- Sensitivity to heat and cold
- Muscle wasting, contractions, spasticity (tight muscles)
- Skin rash
The symptoms of syringomyelia usually grow slowly, yet exercise, coughing, or otherwise straining can bring on a sudden onset.
Treatment for Syringomyelia
Some patients who are having syringomyelia may have no symptoms for these patients, the doctor may choose a "watch and wait" approach. These patients can go about their normal lives, being cautious about avoiding cervical (neck) and back strain.
Pregnancy and vaginal delivery can be a relative contraindication for patients with syringomyelia. The patients who are pregnant may require special care as pushing and straining during vaginal delivery can potentially enlarge a syrinx. Although a C-section may be advised, patients should have a full discussion with their doctor.
The primary treatment goals are to stop or control damage to the spinal cord, preserve function, and prevent disability for patients who are experiencing symptoms of syringomyelia.
Treatment options include draining or surgical removal of the syrinx. Physical therapy may be included in the treatment plan to help the patient rebuild lost muscle strength and regain flexibility.