Syringomyelia - Symptoms, causes and treatment

Syringomyelia is spinal cord disorders due to cyst in spinal cord (syrinx). Cyst or syrinxwhich grow could pressing the spinal cord, causing symptoms such as muscle weakness and loss of pain sensation.

The cause of syringomyelia is not known with certainty. However, there are several diseases that can trigger this condition, namely Chiari malformation, meningitis, spinal cord injury, and spinal cord tumors.

Syringomyelia Symptoms

Symptoms of syringomyelia usually only appear when the sufferer is in their 20s to 30s, then they can get worse slowly. At first, syringomyelia will attack the back of the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. Symptoms include:

  • Weakness in muscles.
  • Muscle wasting (muscle atrophy).
  • Loss of reflex.
  • Loss of sensitivity to pain, cold, and heat.

Other symptoms that can also appear in syringomyelia are:

  • Stiff muscles
  • Muscle ache
  • Disturbances in defecation and urination

When to go to the doctor

If the above symptoms appear, immediately consult a doctor. Some of the symptoms of syringomyelia are similar to other spinal cord diseases, so a series of tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis, before the doctor can determine the right treatment.

You also need to be vigilant and see a doctor if you have experienced a spinal cord injury, because symptoms can appear several months to several years after the injury. The sooner it is detected, the greater the chance of recovery.

Causes of Syringomyelia

Syringomyelia is caused by the formation of cysts on the spinal cordsyrinx). The cause of the cyst is not known until now. However, there are several diseases that are thought to be the trigger for the formation of these cysts.

Most cases of syringomyelia are triggered by Chiari malformation, a brain structure disorder that causes part of the brain to slide into the spinal cord. The degenerated brain tissue interferes with the flow of spinal fluid (cerebrospinal fluid), thus triggering the formation of cysts that cause syringomyelia.

Besides being triggered by Chiari malformation, syringomyelia can also be thought to be triggered by:

  • Injury to the spinal cord
  • Meningitis
  • Tumors in the spinal area
  • Congenital (congenital) abnormalities of the spinal cord
  • Bleeding in the spinal area

Syringomyelia diagnosis

To diagnose syringomyelia, the doctor will first ask the patient's symptoms and medical history, as well as perform a physical examination.

If syringomyelia is suspected, the doctor will ask the patient to undergo an MRI or CT scan. Scans are performed to see the condition of the spinal cord in detail. To produce a clearer image, the radiologist may inject a special dye (contrast) before the examination.

Syringomyelia Treatment

The treatment for syringomyelia that the doctor will give depends on the severity of the disease and the development of symptoms experienced by the patient. If the symptoms are mild, the neurologist only recommends the patient to undergo regular neurological examinations and MRIs.

To prevent syringomyelia from getting worse, patients are advised to avoid strenuous activities and undergo physiotherapy to treat neurological disorders, such as muscle weakness and muscle stiffness. This therapy will be guided by a medical rehabilitation doctor.


If the symptoms of syringomyelia get worse or interfere with daily activities, the doctor will suggest surgery. The operation is performed by a neurosurgeon to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and restore the normal flow of spinal fluid back to normal.

Different types of spinal surgery are performed, depending on the cause of syringomyelia. Some of the types of surgery that can be performed are:

  • Surgery to treat Chiari malformation, so that spinal fluid flow returns smoothly.
  • Surgery to remove the obstruction to the flow of spinal fluid due to a tumor in the spinal area or abnormal growth of the spine.
  • Operation to drain fluid syrinx, by installing a special tool calledshunt.

Maintenance after operation

After the operation, the patient will also be given antibiotics to prevent complications from infection. In addition, physiotherapy is still done to strengthen weak muscles.

To monitor the recovery process from syringomyelia surgery, patients need to have regular check-ups. During routine check-ups, the doctor can perform an examination with a CT scan, to monitor the condition of the patient's spinal nerves.

Follow-up care after surgery is important because syringomyelia can reappear. Periodic examinations, for example with an MRI examination, need to be carried out to monitor the success of the operation and the progress of the disease.

Syringomyelia complications

There are several complications of syringomyelia that can occur, including:

  • Prolonged (chronic) pain due to spinal cord damage.
  • Scoliosis or a curved spine like the letter S.
  • Myelopathy or gradual loss of nerve function in the spinal cord.
  • Paralysis, due to weak and stiff muscles.
  • Breath failure, because syrinx enlarges and compresses the nerves that regulate the respiratory muscles.