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Surgery for hindbrain related syringomyelia.

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Midland Centre for Neurosurgery, Warley, West Midlands, U.K.


Syringomyelia is a condition with many possible causes, the commonest of which seems to be an abnormality at the foramen magnum. Such cases may be grouped under the heading of "Hindbrain related syringomyelia" and the principles of treatment for all such cases are largely similar. The commonest of these foramen magnum region abnormalities is hindbrain herniation which may be associated with a history of birth difficulties, a small posterior fossa, segmentation abnormalities of the cervical vertebrae or the base of the skull, arachnoiditis of the subarachnoid spaces, subarachnoid pouches, hydrocephalus and intracranial tumours or tumours partly blocking the foramen magnum. Other causes of syringomyelia include conditions which could be grouped under the heading of "non-hindbrain related syringomyelia", these mostly produce blockage of the spinal subarachnoid spaces, especially spinal "arachnoiditis" or meningeal fibrosis, including that secondary to traumatic paraplegia. Intraspinal tumours are sometimes cystic and some authors have included this association under the heading of syringomyelia. Syringomyelia of all kinds is almost always a surgical condition, the destructive forces are those of fluid distending the tissues. As a principle, treatment directed against the cause of the accumulation and the intracord propagation of the fluid by normalising the CSF pathways is more likely to be successful than drainage of the cavities. Drainage operations have an inevitable failure rate and a further incidence of complications attends myelotomy and the leaving of any drainage tube within the narrow confines of the spine. Correction of craniospinal pressure dissociation and re-establishment of a cisterna magna appears to be the most successful treatment strategy and is likely to be immediately and permanently successful in correcting not only the pressure problems such as long tract involvement and syringobulbia features but also in producing satisfactory clinical and radiological improvement in the syringomyelia. The recommended technique includes radical means to gain space at the foramen magnum by creating a large artificial cisterna magna, resecting part of the tonsils, preventing the descent of the cerebellum and avoiding the use of space occupying or fibrosis producing dural grafts. Because the pathogenesis of the cavities remains in doubt, the method by which this treatment stratagem is effective is unclear. It may be that change in the closure conditions of parts of the neuraxis, i.e., alteration in the capacitance and consequent change in pulsation characteristics afforded by the decompression may be the factor which predicates success. Surgical management of hindbrain related syringomyelia is not easy, there are hazards associated with operation, hydrocephalus demands priority in it's management.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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