Syringomyelia is disorder consisting of a fluid-filled cyst in the tubular cavity of the spinal cord. This cyst, called a syrinx, can expand and elongate over time, destroying the spinal cord.
If the condition is congenital, it may be associated with Chiari malformations affecting the area between the cervical vertebrae labelled C4 to C6. Other times syringomyelia may be brought on by meningitis, myelopathy (a disease of the spinal cord), a tumor, an inflammation of the spinal cord membrane or spinal trauma.
Since the spinal cord connects the brain to the nerves in the extremities, syringomyelia often results in a variety symptoms. These symptoms typically vary depending on the extent and, often more critically, on the location of the syrinx within the spinal cord. Each patient may experience a different combination of symptoms:
chronic pain, stiffness or weakness in the shoulders, back, arms or legs
abnormal sensations or loss of sensations in the shoulders, back, arms or legs
weakness or atrophy of hands or arms
A syrinx can interrupt the signals in the nervous system causing
unusual body temperature or sweating
bowel control issues
If the syrinx is located higher up the spinal cord or in the brain stem, it can lead to
vocal cord paralysis
ipsilateral tongue wasting (atrophy on one side of the tongue)
sensory loss in the trigeminal nerve (cranial nerve for sensation and motor functions in the face)
Signs of the disorder tend to develop slowly, although sudden onset may occur with coughing, straining or myelopathy. If not treated surgically, syringomyelia can lead to progressive weakness in the arms and legs, loss of hand sensation and chronic, severe pain. Some patients experience paralysis or paresis (slight or partial paralysis). Other disorders may show common early symptoms such as back pain, but an MRI can help provide a proper diagnosis.
How Is Syringomyelia Diagnosed?
After discussing your medical history, family history and symptoms, your doctor may order other tests. An MRI can show a spinal cord tumor or other spinal conditions. A CT scan will show a cross section of your bones, blood vessels and soft tissues, which can help pinpoint abnormalities. By injecting a contrasting dye around the spinal cord and nerve roots, physicians can see a detailed picture of the area with an image called a myelogram.
Treatments at NSPC for Syringomyelia
The first step after diagnosis is finding a neurosurgeon who is experienced in the treatment of syringomyelia. Surgery is the only viable treatment for the condition, and a neurosurgeon is the only specialist qualified to provide a fully informed recommendation. Not all patients will advance to the stage where surgery is needed. Evaluation of the condition is often difficult because syringomyelia can remain stationary for long periods of time, and in some cases progress rapidly. We offer specialist consultations at locations in Long Island, NY.
Syringomyelia Surgery The goal of minimally invasive syringomyelia surgery is to drain the syrinx or to remove the primary cause and restore cerebrospinal fluid flow. A neurosurgeon for syringomyelia can determine if operating on another condition such as a Chiari malformation and expanding the area for brain tissue will possibly drain the syrinx. If a tumor or other growth is preventing the normal flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, then removing the obstruction may lead to syrinx drainage.
Syringomyelia Pain Management Program Syringomyelia can damage the spinal cord, causing chronic pain, in which case a syringomyelia pain management program may be prescribed.
The expert neurosurgeons at NSPC in the New York area can help determine the best treatment options for your syringomyelia. Our award-winning NY medical centers employ state-of-the-art technology to provide top-notch care and superb surgical options.