What is Syringomyelia?

This disorder occurs when the cerebrospinal fluid that protects the spinal cord and brain accumulates inside the spinal cord and produces a cyst, also known as a syrinx. As the cyst continues to grow larger and longer it eventually destroys the middle section of the spinal cord.

Syringomyelia often occurs along with a hereditary brain defect called Chiari malformation, which causes the bottom portion of the brain to project into the spinal canal. Other causes of this disorder include meningitis, an injury to the spinal cord, a tumor in the spinal cord and abnormalities of the spinal cord that exist at birth.

What are the Symptoms of Syringomyelia?

The symptoms of syringomyelia progress gradually and the first symptoms often cause health issues with the hands, arms, neck and shoulders. Individuals will notice a weakness in their muscles and they experience pain in the shoulder and neck area.

Many individuals become unaware of temperature differences or pain in their hands and fingers because of a loss of feeling. Additional symptoms include numbness in the face, a curvature of the spine, bladder and bowel control issues, and leg spasms. As the disease progresses, some individuals may lose their capability to walk and their arms or legs may become paralyzed.

Syringomyelia Causes

The classification of the disorder known as Syringomyelia breaks it down into two different subgroups. The first of these is known as congenital which means that it was present at birth and has affected the person their entire life. This happens due to an abnormality known as an Arnold–Chiari malformation which is structural defects in the cerebellum. The congenital version is the most common cause, and it generally means that a small posterior fossa interferes with the cerebellum’s normal positioning. In rarer instances, this may also be familial as well.

The second subgroup is the acquired type of the condition. In these instances, there are complications which manifest from trauma, meningitis, a tumor, arachnoiditis, or a hemorrhage. In these cases, there is a cyst or syrinx which develops somewhere in a segment of the spinal cord which was damaged by one of the aforementioned conditions. It may then begin to expand and symptoms can take quite a while to become fully realized. It may take months or even years before the complete condition of Syringomyelia is finally seen in the patient. Post-traumatic syringomyelia (also known as PTS) is one of the most common out of this subgroup. It can be difficult to diagnose with symptoms taking some time to spread outward from the initial site of the injury.

The brainstem can also sometimes be involved in the condition of Syringomyelia. So many of the human body’s vital functions are controlled by the brainstem with respiration and heartbeat being two of the most critical of them all. Syrinxes in the brainstem segment can be classified as syringobulbia.

How is Syringomyelia Treated?

The type of treatment is determined by the advancement of the condition and the specific symptoms. Surgery is often performed to release pressure on the spinal cord that is caused by the cyst. This procedure also allows the cerebrospinal fluid to circulate as it should.

A surgeon may elect to drain the cyst or remove a growth that is preventing the natural movement of the fluid. Individuals who have spine irregularities may need to have corrective surgery. After a surgical procedure, a doctor must continue to monitor the individual’s condition because it is possible for the disorder to return.

Syringomyelia Prevention

There really is no known way to prevent this condition since it is primarily seen in sporadic births with no previous instances. However, there may still be some research which can help to find further solutions.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
November 30, 2017