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Syringomyelia is a generic term referring to a disorder in which a cyst or cavity forms within the spinal cord. This cyst, called a syrinx, can expand and elongate over time, destroying the spinal cord. The damage may result in pain, paralysis, weakness, and stiffness in the back, shoulders, and extremities. Syringomyelia may also cause a loss of the ability to feel extremes of hot or cold, especially in the hands. The disorder generally leads to a cape-like loss of pain and temperature sensation along the back and arms. Each patient experiences a different combination of symptoms. These symptoms typically vary depending on the extent and, often more critically, to the location of the syrinx within the spinal cord.
Syringomyelia has a prevalence estimated at 8.4 cases per 100,000 people, with symptoms usually beginning in young adulthood. Signs of the disorder tend to develop slowly, although sudden onset may occur with coughing, straining, or myelopathy.