BACKGROUND: Disturbances of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow are the commonest cause of syringomyelia. Spinal arachnopathies may lead to CSF flow obstructions but are difficult to diagnose. Consequently, associated syringomyelias are often categorized as idiopathic.
OBJECTIVE: To present and analyze the diagnosis of and long-term outcomes in an observational study of patients with nontraumatic arachnopathies from 1991 to 2011.
METHODS: A total of288 patients (mean age, 47 ± 15 years; follow-up, 54 ± 46 months) were evaluated. Decompression with arachnolysis, untethering, and duraplasty for restoration of CSF flow was recommended to patients with neurological progression. Neurological examinations, magnetic resonance images, and follow-up data were evaluated. Individual symptoms were analyzed during the first postoperative year, and long-term outcomes were analyzed with Kaplan-Meier statistics to determine rates of progression-free survival.
RESULTS: In total,189 patients either refused an operation or were managed conservatively for lack of progression. Among 79 unoperated patients with follow-up information available for up to 8 years, 2 patients deteriorated. Ninety-nine patients with progressive symptoms underwent 116 operations: 108 decompressions and 8 other surgeries. Three months postoperatively, 53% considered their status improved and 37% were unchanged. In the long term, surgery on arachnopathies limited to 2 spinal segments was followed by progression-free survival for 78% over 10 years, in contrast to 31% with extensive arachnopathies.
CONCLUSION: Surgery on nontraumatic arachnopathies related to syringomyelia should be reserved for patients with progressive symptoms. Arachnolysis, untethering, and duraplasty provide good long-term results for focal arachnopathies. For extensive pathologies with a history of subarachnoid hemorrhage or meningitis, treatment remains a major challenge.