In his latest installment to the Total Spine series of instructional videos, Dr. Paul McCormick describes retropleural thoracotomy, a surgical technique used to treat complex spinal conditions of the thoracic and lumbar spine. “Retropleural thoracotomy is an important...
Syringomyelia is a condition in which a syrinx (a cyst, or collection of fluid) forms in the spinal cord.
The fluid inside the syrinx is called cerebrospinal fluid. Normally, cerebrospinal fluid flows around the outside of the brain and spinal cord, bathing and cushioning them. When the flow of cerebrospinal fluid is blocked, however, some of the excess fluid can enter the spinal cord. This is the beginning of a syrinx. Untreated, syrinxes tend to expand over time, though some remain stable or even disappear. Unfortunately, it is not always clear which course a syrinx will follow.
Syringomyelia is also known as hydromyelia.
A syrinx can compress the nerves of the spinal cord. Specific symptoms depend on where the syrinx is located and how much it compresses the nerves. Possible symptoms include weakness of hands and arms, numbness to temperature, pain in the back and neck, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), stiffness, pain, and incontinence. Symptoms usually appear gradually.
Symptoms may also appear because of the underlying cause of the syrinx. For instance, a syrinx may be caused by a Chiari Malformation, which can cause headaches or neck pain..
|Causes and Risk Factors|
Syringomyelia can also be caused by damage to a previously healthy spinal cord. This damage can be caused by trauma, meningitis (an infection in the spinal cord membranes), arachnoiditis (inflammation and scarring of the spinal cord membranes), hemorrhage (bleeding), or other problems.
|Tests and Diagnosis|
If a patient presents with symptoms associated with syringomyelia, the surgeon may order a magnetic resonance imaging (MR) scan. MR scans use a combination of large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. A special type of MR called a cine MR may also be useful. More like a video than a still image, the cine MR can show the movement of cerebrospinal fluid. Computed tomography (CT) scan can also be useful. They use a computer and multiple X-rays to produce detailed images of bones and soft tissues. They can help diagnose syrinxes, tumors (occasionally a cause of syringomyelia), or hydrocephalus (a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain).
In many cases, a syrinx causes no symptoms and may need no treatment. But if the syrinx causes problems such as injury to the spinal cord or progressive scoliosis, it must be treated surgically.
The following courses of treatment are options in treating syringomyelia:
|Preparing for Your Appointment|
Drs. Paul C. McCormick, Alfred T. Ogden, Christopher E. Mandigo, Patrick C. Reid, Richard C.E. Anderson (Pediatric), and Neil A. Feldstein (Pediatric) are experts in treating syringomyelia. Each can also offer you a second opinion.
Helpful Surgery Overviews
Dr. McCormick will choose the treatment method specific to each patient and situation. Some of the condition’s treatment options may be listed below.
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