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Chiari and Syringomyelia Research Foundation - Working toward a life without pain.
The University of Missouri-Columbia Chiari Clinic website explains that syringomyelia was first discovered by Antione Portal in 1803 after doing an autopsy on a late patient. Syringomyelia is a neurological disorder that occurs when a cyst forms in the spinal cord. The cyst is called a syrinx (pronounced see-rinx). Over time the syrinx damages the nerves inside the spinal cord and may expand and elongate.
The Chiari InstituteпїЅs (of Long Island Jewish Hospital) website cites that about 80% of syringomyelia cases were caused by a related disorder called Chiari malformation. Some of the other causes of syringomyelia are trauma, hemorrhage, infection and spinal cord tethering.
As described on the University of Missouri-Columbia Chiari Clinic website, there are many symptoms caused by syringomyelia. Some of these include pain, weakness, stiffness in the back, shoulders, arms, or legs, headaches, inability to feel hot and cold.
According to a study performed at Duke University by Dr. Marcy Speer in 2004, Chiari Type I Malformation With or Without Syringomyelia: Prevalence and Genetics, between 182,075 and 234,631 Americans have syringomyelia.
Syringomyelia is usually diagnosed through Magnetic Resonance Imaging, also known as an MRI. The MRI is able to take pictures of different parts of the body like the brain, spine and spinal cord. The MRI helps doctors find abnormalities and diagnose many disorders such as syringomyelia.
To treat syringomyelia, oftentimes surgery is recommended to fix the cause of the syrinx. For instance, a brain decompression may be recommended if the patient has Chiari malformation. By correcting the Chiari, doctors hope that the syringomyelia will be corrected as well.
If the cause of the syringomyelia cannot be corrected or if the Chiari surgery did not correct the syringomyelia, spinal cord surgery may be recommended. One possible surgical method is to remove one or more laminas (this is called a laminectomy) in the area of the syrinx, to create more space around the spinal cord (subarachnoid space). Another surgical route is to put a tube in the syrinx called a shunt. However this method carries significantly more risks. Due to this, strong communication between the physician and patient as well as research performed by the patient is imperative. Lastly, some syringomyelia patients have few or no symptoms. In this case, physicians often choose not to operate. A physician may also choose not to operate if the patientпїЅs symptoms are not progressing.