Syringomyelia is a cyst-like collection of cereberospinal fluid (CSF) that forms in the spinal cord. Over time, it damages the spinal cord.
The fluid-filled cyst is called a syrinx. The spinal fluid buildup may be caused by:
The fluid-filled cyst usually begins in the neck area. It expands slowly, putting pressure on the spinal cord and slowly causing damage.
There may be no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may include:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about the symptoms, focusing on the nervous system. Tests that may be done include:
The goals of treatment are to stop the spinal cord damage from getting worse and to improve function.
Surgery may be needed to relieve pressure in the spinal cord. Physical therapy may be needed to improve muscle function.
Ventriculoperitoneal shunting may be needed. This is a procedure in which a catheter (thin, flexible tube) is inserted to drain the fluid buildup.
Without treatment, the disorder may get worse very slowly. Over time, it may cause severe disability.
Surgery usually stops the condition from getting worse. Nervous system function will improve in about half the people who have surgery.
Without treatment, the condition may lead to:
Possible complications of surgery include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you have symptoms of syringomyelia.
There is no known way to prevent this condition, other than avoiding injuries to the spinal cord. Getting treated right away slows the disorder from getting worse.
Batzdorf U. Syringomyelia. In: Shen FH, Samartzis D, Fessler RG, eds. Textbook of the Cervical Spine. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 29.
Perron AD, Huff JS. Spinal cord disorders. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 106.
Review Date: 5/30/2016
Reviewed By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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