Nervous System Home > Syringomyelia

When a cyst forms within the spinal cord, it is known as syringomyelia. Symptoms of this condition include severe pain and weakness in the back, sweating problems, and an inability to feel extremes of hot or cold, among others. In most cases, it is a result of a brain malformation that is present at birth. However, it can also occur as a result of meningitis or a tumor. In patients with symptoms, the most common treatment method is surgery.

What Is Syringomyelia?

Syringomyelia is a condition in which a cyst forms within the spinal cord. This cyst, called a syrinx, expands and lengthens over time, destroying the center of the spinal cord.

How Common Is It?

Because syringomyelia can occur in association with other conditions, estimates of the number of Americans with syringomyelia vary widely, but a conservative estimate is that about 40,000 people in the United States are affected, with symptoms usually beginning in young adulthood.

Other Medical Conditions

In most cases, syringomyelia is related to a congenital abnormality of the brain called a Chiari type I malformation. This malformation occurs during the development of the fetus and causes the lower part of the cerebellum to protrude from its normal location in the back of the head into the cervical, or neck, portion of the spinal canal. This form of syringomyelia is called communicating syringomyelia.
Syringomyelia can also occur as a complication of:
When it occurs as a result of one of these conditions, it is called non-communicating syringomyelia.
(Click Syringomyelia Causes for more information.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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