Syringomyelia is a rare condition that forms a cyst filled with fluid in the spinal cord. It affects about 8 in 100,000 people in the United States. It’s important to know about it because it can cause severe symptoms and problems if not treated.

This condition occurs when there is fluid filled cavity inside the spinal cord. It creates a syrinx which can harm the spinal cord and press on nerves. These nerves send messages around the body, and their compression can lead to various symptoms.

This disorder is often linked with a Chiari malformation. This happens when brain tissue pushes through the skull and blocks fluid flow. Other causes include spinal cord injuries, tumors, and related to surrounding inflammation. Sometimes, the exact cause is not known.

Staying informed about syringomyelia and its treatments can help those living with it. Working with doctors is important for finding the best care. This can help manage symptoms and improve life quality.

Understanding Syringomyelia

Syringomyelia is a neurological disorder where fluid-filled cysts form in the spinal cord. These cysts are called syrinxes. They can cause many problems that affect how someone lives.

People may not know they have it at first because the symptoms can be hard to spot. Let’s look at what the disorder is, what types there are, and how common it is.

Definition of Syringomyelia

Syringomyelia happens when a syrinx, a fluid-filled cyst, grows in the spinal cord. This cyst can get bigger and harm the spinal cord. It can press on and damage the nerves.

The issue starts when there’s a block in how fluid moves around the spinal cord. This block can come from several things, like a problem in the lower brain stem.

Types of Syringomyelia

There are two main forms: one that’s present from birth and the other you can develop. Congenital syringomyelia happens when part of the brain goes into the spinal canal. It slows down the fluid moving through the spinal cord. This mostly affects the neck area.

Acquired syringomyelia can happen because of different reasons. These include spinal cord injury, meningitis, and spinal cord tumors. It’s caused by things you might face after birth.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

It’s not common, happening to about 8 in every 100,000 people in the U.S. Certain things can make you more likely to get it. For example, if you have a Chiari malformation or a past spinal cord injury.

Knowing these risk factors is important. It helps find the condition early and treat it the right way.

syringomyelia types

Symptoms of Syringomyelia

The symptoms of syringomyelia change based on where the cyst is and its size. This cyst, called a syrinx, fills with fluid in the spinal cord. The signs can also depend on the root cause. They tend to appear slowly and get worse with time.

Early Signs and Symptoms

In the beginning, you might feel pain that doesn’t stop, especially in your head, neck, or back. Your arms and legs can get weaker. You might also notice stiffness or lose feeling in your hands. Some people feel numb or tingly, have headaches, or find it hard to keep their balance.

Progressive Symptoms

As it gets worse, more symptoms can show up. You might lose control over going to the bathroom or feel like you can’t hold in your pee. Some have trouble with sex, and their spine may start to curve. These new problems can keep getting worse over the years as the syrinx harms the spinal cord more.


What Is Syringomyelia?

Syringomyelia is a problem with the brain and spinal cord. It causes a cyst, called a syrinx, to form. This syrinx can get big enough to harm the spinal cord. It hurts the nerve fibers that move messages between the brain and body.

In syringomyelia, a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) gathers in the spinal cord. It causes a syrinx to form. This happens when the normal movement of CSF around the spinal cord gets blocked.

what is syringomyelia

Knowing what syringomyelia is helps spot its signs, find out why it happens, and choose the best treatment. This is vital for those who have this disorder.

Causes of Syringomyelia

Syringomyelia can be caused by a few different things. The main one is Chiari malformation. This is when the brain tissue pushes through the hole at the bottom of the skull.

This can happen if you have a spinal cord injury. Or, if a tumor grows on your spinal cord. Infections can also lead to syringomyelia. Sometimes, doctors don’t know the exact reason why it happens. But, problems at birth, like tethered cord syndrome, can be at the root of it too.

Chiari Malformation

Chiari malformation often causes syringomyelia. It makes part of your brain go into your spinal canal. This blocks the normal path of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). A syrinx, or fluid-filled area, then forms in your spinal cord.

Spinal Cord Injuries

If you have a traumatic injury to your spinal cord, it might lead to syringomyelia. This injury can disturb the CSF’s flow, creating a syrinx. What’s surprising is, this might happen years after the original injury.

Tumors and Growths

Spinal cord tumors, even non-cancerous ones, can block CSF from moving freely. This blockage can cause a syrinx. There are other types of growths too, like arachnoid cysts, that can prompt syringomyelia.

Congenital Abnormalities

Certain birth defects can also be a reason for syringomyelia. For example, tethered cord syndrome. This is when your spinal cord is fixed too tightly. It can stop CSF from flowing right, creating a syrinx.

causes of syringomyelia

Diagnosing Syringomyelia

Diagnosing syringomyelia involves reviewing your medical history and a neurological exam. It also includes advanced imaging tests. These steps are vital to find out if a fluid-filled cyst is in your spinal cord.

Medical History and Physical Examination

Your doctor will ask about your past health, looking for signs of syringomyelia. They will test your reflexes, strength, and how you feel and move. This helps them see if there are any nerve problems.

Imaging Tests

For a definite diagnosis, an MRI is the best tool. This scan shows your spine and can find a syrinx. It can also show if there are serious issues like Chiari malformation or tumors.

Occasionally, a dynamic MRI is needed to see how fluid around the spine moves. Sometimes a dye is used to get clearer pictures.

Combining your history, exam, and imaging results helps the doctor know if you have syringomyelia. This leads to a treatment plan designed for your situation.

Treatment Options for Syringomyelia

The way syringomyelia is treated depends on how bad the symptoms are and if they’re getting worse. If the condition doesn’t show symptoms, your doctor might just check on you regularly without any specific treatment at first.

Monitoring and Observation

If your syringomyelia isn’t causing a lot of issues, the plan might include getting regular MRIs. This way, doctors can keep an eye on the syrinx’s size and location. This monitoring helps ensure your health stays steady.

Your healthcare team will decide how often you need to come in and have imaging tests. They will make sure the illness isn’t getting worse.

Surgical Interventions

When syringomyelia brings bad or worsening symptoms, surgery might be the best step. The main aim of surgery is to get rid of the syrinx to stop more spinal cord damage. Surgery might work by:

  • Fixing a Chiari malformation to help CSF flow normally
  • Stop a syrinx from getting bigger after a spinal cord injury
  • Take out things like scar tissue or tumors that block CSF flow
  • Drain the syrinx directly using a shunt or other methods

Which surgery you have depends on what caused your syringomyelia, the syrinx’s size and place, and your general health. Your neurosurgeon will choose the best surgery for you closely.

surgical interventions for syringomyelia

Even after successful surgery, syringomyelia could come back. So, seeing your doctor regularly and possibly more treatment are important. Some symptoms could stay because of damage to the spinal cord and nerves after treatment.

Living with Syringomyelia

Managing syringomyelia means handling symptoms and adjusting your lifestyle. This is key for a good quality of life. It includes using pain meds, doing physical therapy, and using occupational therapy. They help with muscle weakness, feeling loss, and neurological issues.

Managing Symptoms

Dealing with pain is vital in this condition. A doctor may give you medicine to ease the chronic pain. Physical and occupational therapy are also great. They improve muscle function, coordination, and daily tasks.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Making some changes can help in managing syringomyelia. Try to avoid heavy lifting to reduce symptom risks. Keeping a healthy weight, staying active, and lowering stress can improve your well-being.

Support Resources

Joining support groups and reaching out for help is important. The American Syringomyelia & Chiari Alliance Project (ASAP) can offer great support. They provide information, emotional support, and a community. Seeing a neurosurgeon or neurologist regularly is crucial too. They help track the condition and plan the best treatment.

syringomyelia support resources

Syringomyelia in Children

Syringomyelia can show up in kids, often with a Chiari malformation or other related issues. It may only lead to scoliosis or other spinal issues in them. Catching it early and treating it is crucial to stop more damage to the spinal cord and brain.

Kids may need special care from a pediatric neurosurgeon or neurologist. They might also need surgery. This helps to fix the problem and handle the syrinx.

Syringomyelia in children may cause weakness, pain, or trouble with reflexes. Finding out if a child has it involves physical exams and looking at their spinal cord with MRI. Shunting the cyst and treating what’s causing the problem, like Chiari malformations, are common ways to treat it.

After diagnosis, children need regular check-ups. They might also need physical or occupational therapy. While it’s not common, parents and doctors should know about this condition in kids and how to deal with it.

Complications of Syringomyelia

Syringomyelia is a disorder where a fluid-filled cyst forms within the spinal cord. It can cause many problems if the syrinx grows or hurts the spinal cord’s nerves. These include:

  • Scoliosis: A sideways curve of the spine, can happen with this disorder.
  • Chronic pain: The syrinx can damage the spinal cord, leading to long-term, intense pain.
  • Motor difficulties: It can cause leg muscles to weaken and stiffen, making walking hard.
  • Paralysis: In very severe cases, it may lead to paralysis if nerve damage occurs.

The complications you face depend on the syrinx’s size and location, and what caused it. Getting diagnosed early and treated well is key to avoiding or dealing with these issues. This approach can greatly help manage your quality of life.

Syringomyelia and Associated Conditions

Syringomyelia often comes with other health issues, with Chiari malformation being very common. In Chiari malformation, the brain stretches into the spinal canal. This blocks the usual flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and causes a syrinx, which is a fluid-filled cyst in the spinal cord.

Syringomyelia can also be linked to spinal cord injuries, meningitis, arachnoiditis, tethered cord syndrome, and spinal cord tumors. It’s key to understand how syringomyelia and these conditions are connected. This helps in diagnosing it right and finding the best treatment. It also helps in managing one’s health when living with this nerve disorder.

In some cases, spinal cord injuries lead to syringomyelia later on, even years after the injury. Conditions from birth, like tethered cord syndrome, might also cause syringomyelia to show up when people are between 25 and 40 years old.

Finding the connection between syringomyelia and these health problems is vital for doctors. It helps in making the right diagnosis and providing the best care. This understanding can make life better for those dealing with syringomyelia and its effects.

Research and Advancements

Research is ongoing to understand and treat syringomyelia better. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) supports a lot of this work. It focuses on figuring out how genetics play a part in Chiari malformation, which often leads to syringomyelia. It also looks to make better ways to see inside the body, improve treatments, and prevent cell damage in the spine that causes this condition.

Clinical trials play a big role in this research. They help scientists learn more about syringomyelia and try new treatments. Participating in these trials gives patients a chance to help move research forward and improve care for everyone dealing with syringomyelia. Thanks to efforts on genetics, better tests, and new treatments, the outlook for those with syringomyelia is improving.

Prevention of Syringomyelia

Syringomyelia is a condition that has many causes, like Chiari malformation and spinal cord injuries. While not all causes can be prevented, there are steps to lower the risk. It’s crucial to manage Chiari malformation properly and treat any other conditions early. This care can help prevent syringomyelia. For spinal cord injuries, getting help soon and going through rehab can stop syrinx from forming.

Taking folic acid as a supplement during pregnancy is another way to lower risks. This helps prevent birth defects linked to syringomyelia prevention. Staying in touch with your doctors regularly if you have risks for syringomyelia is also very important.


Syringomyelia is a complex neurological disorder. It forms a syrinx, a fluid-filled cyst, in the spinal cord. This can cause pain, weakness, and loss of feeling.

Different factors can lead to syringomyelia. The most common is the Chiari malformation. It blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

It’s key to diagnose syringomyelia accurately. This is done through medical history, exams, and imaging tests. Treatment can involve watching closely, surgery, or both.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) funds a lot of the research on syringomyelia. Ongoing studies aim to understand and treat it better. This helps both patients and doctors make informed choices.


What is syringomyelia?

Syringomyelia is a rare neurological disorder. It causes a fluid-filled cyst to form in the spinal cord. This cyst can damage the spinal cord and press on nerve fibers. These fibers send information to and from the brain.

What are the types of syringomyelia?

There are two main types of syringomyelia. Congenital syringomyelia is one type. Acquired syringomyelia is the other. These types also go by the names communicating and noncommunicating syringomyelia.

How common is syringomyelia?

Syringomyelia is quite rare. It affects about 8 out of 100,000 people in the U.S. Some risk factors include Chiari malformation or spinal cord injuries.

What are the symptoms of syringomyelia?

At first, you might feel pain and weakness. You could also have stiffness and headaches. Later, symptoms might include problems with bodily functions and spine curvature.

What causes syringomyelia?

A Chiari malformation is the main cause. It happens when brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. This blocks the flow of fluid. There are other causes too, like spinal cord injuries and tumors.

How is syringomyelia diagnosed?

Doctors use your medical history, a physical exam, and imaging tests. An MRI is especially important. It shows if you have a syrinx and where it’s located.

How is syringomyelia treated?

Treatment depends on your symptoms and how fast they’re getting worse. If the condition isn’t serious, doctors might just watch it. But, if it’s bad or getting worse, surgery could be needed to remove the syrinx.

How can people with syringomyelia manage their condition?

Managing your condition means dealing with symptoms and making lifestyle changes. This could include taking pain meds, doing physical therapy, and avoiding things that make you feel worse. Support groups and resources can also help a lot.

Can children develop syringomyelia?

Yes, children can get syringomyelia. It’s often linked with a Chiari malformation or other birth defects. It’s key to find and treat it early to avoid more damage.

What are the potential complications of syringomyelia?

This condition can lead to scoliosis, ongoing pain, walking issues, and in severe cases, not being able to move. The complications depend on where the syrinx is and what causes it.

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