What is Syringomyelia?

Syringomyelia is a condition that causes fluid-filled cysts to form on the spinal cord. These cysts can get bigger and damage your spinal cord. Syringomyelia is also known as spinal syrinx, syringohydromyelia, hydromyelia, or Morvan disease.

Signs and Symptoms

Syringomyelia symptoms usually develop over a period of time. It is common for symptoms to first show up when you are 25-40 years old, especially if a bulge in brain tissue causes your condition. If you suffer a spinal cord injury, symptoms may occur months or years later.

Signs of syringomyelia:

  • Headaches
  • Curved spine
  • Increased sweating
  • Tingling
  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Arm pain
  • Shoulder stiffness
  • Back stiffness
  • Arm stiffness
  • Leg stiffness
  • Weak muscles
  • Reduced reflexes
  • Numbness
  • Twitching
  • Sexual issues
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Bowel function changes
  • Bowel function loss
  • Reduced pain sensitivity
  • Reduced temperature sensitivity


There is no clear syringomyelia cause. The condition occurs when cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the spinal cord and forms cysts.

Conditions that result in syringomyelia:

  • Spinal cord injuries—Damage to your spinal cord can result in delayed symptoms of syringomyelia. The delays can sometimes last months or years.
  • Congenital conditions—Some conditions at birth can lead to syringomyelia.
  • Meningitis—This condition is when brain and spinal cord membranes become inflamed.
  • Spinal cord tumors—These tumors can interrupt the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid.
  • Brain tissue protrusion—This condition is known as a Chiari malformation.

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors increase your likelihood of developing syringomyelia. Risk factors include age, gender, and injuries.

Syringomyelia risk factors include:

  • Age—Individuals between the ages of 20 and 40 develop the condition more often. However, anyone of any age can experience syringomyelia.
  • Gender—Men develop the disease more often than women.
  • Injury—Spinal cord injuries put you at higher risk for the condition.


A syringomyelia diagnosis often follows a routine physical examination and imaging test. Your doctor may use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computerized tomography (CT) scan.

Imaging tests:

  • MRI—An MRI uses radio waves to take images of your spine. An MRI is the most common way to identify and diagnose syringomyelia.
  • CT Scan—A CT scan takes a series of X-ray images of your spine. A CT scan can show tumors or other spinal cord abnormalities.


Syringomyelia treatment often involves a combination of monitoring, surgery, and follow-up care. The specific treatment depends on the severity of your condition, your symptoms, and general health.

Treatment for syringomyelia:

  • Monitoring—If you are not currently showing signs of syringomyelia, your doctor may prescribe regular appointments to monitor the progression of your disease.
  • Surgery—Your doctor will perform surgery to reduce pressure on your spine and reestablish the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Surgery might involve removing blockages, repairing damage, correcting spinal cord abnormalities, or removing a small segment of bone in your skull to reduce spinal cord pressure.
  • Follow-up care—Your doctor will often want to schedule ongoing follow-up appointments to analyze your response to treatment, monitor your symptoms, and check for a recurrence of the condition.


Syringomyelia is a progressive condition that can cause severe complications. Some individuals do not experience any symptoms or complications.

Possible syringomyelia complications:

  • Paralysis
  • Weakness in your legs
  • Stiffness in your legs
  • Chronic pain
  • Abnormally curved spine

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