To make a definitive syringomyelia diagnosis, several things are considered, including the patient's medical history and any reported symptoms. A doctor will also order certain tests, such as a lumbar puncture, MRI, or CT scan. Another test, called a myelogram, isn't used as often as it used to be; since the introduction of the MRI, this test has been used only rarely for diagnosing syringomyelia.
Diagnosing Syringomyelia: A Overview
To make a syringomyelia diagnosis, a physician considers the patient's medical history (including symptoms that the patient or family reports), results of the physical exam, and certain imaging tests or procedures.
Tests Used to Diagnose Syringomyelia
Doctors may use a number of tests to make a syringomyelia diagnosis. Some of these tests may include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Lumbar puncture
- Computed tomography (CT scan)
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Physicians now use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose syringomyelia. The MRI machine takes pictures of body structures, such as the brain and spinal cord, in vivid detail. This test will show the syrinx in the spine, as well as other conditions, such as the presence of a tumor.
MRI is safe, painless, and informative, and has greatly improved the diagnosis of syringomyelia. Images taken in rapid succession can be used for "dynamic imaging" (in "Cine mode") to observe the fluid flowing around the spinal cord and within the syrinx.
Electromyography (EMG), Lumbar Puncture, and CT Scans
The physician may order additional tests to help confirm the diagnosis. One of these is called electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle weakness. The doctor may also want to test cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure levels and to analyze the CSF by performing a lumbar puncture. In addition, computed tomography (CT) scans of a patient's head may reveal the presence of tumors and other abnormalities, such as hydrocephalus.