Syringomyelia (SM) is a disorder in which a cyst forms within the spinal cord. This cyst, called a syrinx, expands and elongates over time, destroying the center of the cord. Since the spinal cord connects the brain to the nerves in the extremities, this damage may result in pain, weakness, and stiffness in the back, shoulders, arms or legs. Other symptoms may include headaches and loss of the ability to feel extremes of hot or cold, especially in the hands and disruption in body temperature. SM may also adversely affect sweating, sexual function and bladder and bowel control.
Syringomyelia is caused by trauma to the spinal cord or congenital developmental problems of the brain and/or spinal cord. Spinal cord trauma such as a car accident or serious fall may manifest years later as SM. Congenital developmental problems, sometimes undetectable may result in syringomyelia. In either case, the condition may lie dormant and undetected for months or years until a symptom or variety of symptoms become bothersome enough to warrant medical attention. Many people with SM are not diagnosed until mid-life. A number of medical conditions can cause an obstruction in the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), redirecting it to the spinal cord itself. This results in the formation of a syrinx (cyst that fills with CSF). Pressure differences along the spine cause the fluid to move within the cyst. It is believed that this continual movement of fluid results in cyst growth and further damage to the spinal cord and connecting nerves.