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Syringomyelia Awareness Month – May 2024

Syringomyelia Awareness Month is observed from May 1 to May 31. Syringomyelia is a neurological disorder in which a syrinx — a cyst filled with fluid — develops inside the spinal cord. The expansion of the syrinx stretches the spinal cord and damages the nerve tissue. If left untreated, it can lead to paralysis. The symptoms of syringomyelia vary from person to person, and these symptoms often resemble those of other illnesses. Common symptoms include pain in the neck, upper back, and shoulders. Other symptoms are numbness in the limbs, and the inability to feel hot or cold. Syringomyelia has no cure.

History of Syringomyelia Awareness Month

As far back as the 16th century, physicians had observed the presence of cavities within the spinal cords of cadavers. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that several European doctors began investigating this strange condition. Dr. Hans Chiari, an Austrian pathologist, was one of the leading minds in this movement. His studies on malformation of the brain stem and cerebellum led to a deeper understanding of syringomyelia. Like many other doctors at the time, his observations came from the study of cadavers during post-mortems. Chiari noted that malformations in the spinal cord were the primary cause of syringomyelia.

These malformations, called ‘Chiari malformations,’ were categorized in order of severity. Chiari observed that these malformations were an extension of brain tissue. It goes through the hole at the base of the skull and into the spinal canal, obstructing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and causing a build-up of cysts. His findings are still used by doctors today. We now know that roughly 90% of syringomyelia cases are a result of Chiari malformations.

The development of magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I.) technology in the 20th century was a game-changer for the diagnosis of syringomyelia. They used radio waves and a strong magnetic field to generate detailed images of the spinal cord. Doctors now view syrinxes in real-time, monitoring their growth and pinpointing the precise location. All while keeping track of their progression. Though syringomyelia has no cure, modern medicine has advanced enough that there are methods of treatment to help manage the condition, like surgical procedures. During Syringomyelia Awareness Month, we reflect on this long road of discovery, research, and innovation. We also recognize those who have this rare but serious disorder.

Syringomyelia Awareness Month timeline

The First Case

Johann Conrad Brunner accidentally discovers a liquid-filled cavity inside the spinal cord of an infant with hydrocephalus.

Syringomyelia Becomes a Medical Term

Charles-Prosper Olivier d'Angers coins the term ‘syringomyelia’ to describe the presence of a cavity in the spinal cord.

Documentation of Clinical Symptoms

German doctors Otto von Kahler and Friedrich Schultze document the clinical syndrome by the presence of an abnormal cavity in the spine, distinct from those found in the spinal cords of healthy adults.

Gardner’s Hydrodynamic Theory

Gardner postulates that the cause of syringomyelia is a difference in spinal fluid pressures, which lead to cavities filling up with fluid inside the spine.

Syringomyelia Awareness Month FAQs

Can Syringomyelia affect the brain?

If the syrinx gets bigger over time, it may compress or injure nerve fibers that carry information to the brain.

Does Syringomyelia affect the legs?

Yes, a common symptom of syringomyelia is muscle weakness and atrophy, which may influence the shoulders, arms, back, or legs.

How long is recovery from Syrinx surgery?

Recovery time may take between four and six weeks, depending on the patient’s general health.

How to Observe Syringomyelia Awareness Month

  1. Get the word out

    You can help raise awareness too. Spread the word about syringomyelia. You can pass out fliers, make ribbons or just discuss it with others. The more people know about it the better.

  2. Buy some merchandise

    Every movement needs a symbol. Buying a t-shirt or ribbon that talks about syringomyelia can help raise awareness. As a bonus, the funds go towards the research and treatment of syringomyelia.

  3. Volunteer with a support group

    There are many support groups for people with syringomyelia. You can start by looking for them online. Contact them and let them know you’d like to get involved in any way possible. These organizations are happy to get help from those who want to learn more about syringomyelia.

5 Important Facts About Syringomyelia

  1. Syringomyelia affects animals too

    Canines like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel also get affected by syringomyelia.

  2. Prevalence of Syringomyelia

    Approximately eight out of every 100,000 people have this condition.

  3. It affects men disproportionately

    For unknown reasons, syringomyelia impacts men more than women.

  4. The onset age

    People with syringomyelia develop symptoms between 25 and 40, and the average age of onset is 30.

  5. Meningitis may cause Syringomyelia

    Meningitis causes inflammation of the spinal cord membrane, which can lead to acquired syringomyelia.

Why Syringomyelia Awareness Month is Important

  1. It brings attention to a rare disorder

    Syringomyelia is a rare condition, one with symptoms that mimic many other illnesses. As such not many people know about it. During this period of awareness, health workers and patients with syringomyelia can bring attention to the disease, educating others on its causes and symptoms.

  2. Much needed support

    It’s easy for someone battling a serious neurological disorder to feel alone, especially when that disorder isn’t as well known as other conditions. On Syringomyelia Awareness Month, affected people get some much-needed emotional support and attention.

  3. It promotes better policies and treatment

    During this period of awareness, affected people have the opportunity to push for policies and treatment for syringomyelia. Organizations concerned with this disorder can come together and rally support for their initiatives, which improve things for those who have syringomyelia.

Syringomyelia Awareness Month dates

2024May 1Wednesday
2025May 1Thursday
2026May 1Friday
2027May 1Saturday
2028May 1Monday
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