Syringomyelia is a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid accumulates within the spinal cord. The accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid is called a syrinx. The syrinx can enlarge eventually causing damage to the spinal cord.
Symptoms of syringomyelia include:
- Numbness and decreased sensitivity to pain, heat and cold in the arms, hands, shoulders and upper trunk
- Weakness and wasting of the muscles of the arms and hands
- Weakness of the legs
- Impaired balance
- Pain in the neck and arms, often burning in nature
- Difficulty with bladder control
Testing and Diagnosis
Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, is the best method of detecting a syrinx.
There are several treatment options for syringomyelia; treatment is based on the severity of the patient’s condition and the cause of the syrinx.
If the syrinx occurs in conjunction with the Chiari malformation, the only treatment that is usually required is direct treatment of the Chiari malformation. The syrinx then usually resolves on its own once the spinal fluid circulation is normalized.
In other cases, the syrinx may be drained directly using a tube or "shunt". A syrinx associated with a tumor is treated in conjunction with the removal of the tumor.
A patient who has a syrinx and elects not to undergo treatment should be followed closely using MRI scan to ensure that the syrinx does not enlarge. The patient should also be examined at least twice per year to make sure that there is no decline in neurological function such as increasing numbness, decreasing strength and increasing wasting of the muscles. Progressive problems should encourage the patient to undergo treatment before the problems become irreversible.