Cervical myelopathy refers to dysfunction of the portion of the spinal cord which passes through the neck. This can result from many causes, including changes in the spinal canal, changes of the blood supply to the spinal cord, tumors of the spinal cord, and diseases within the spinal cord. Since all impulses from the brain must pass through this area to reach the arms, legs, bowels, and bladder, any region may be affected. In addition, impulses which supply the blood vessels of the body pass through this segment of the spinal cord and may be affected. This can lead to trouble maintaining normal blood pressure. Breathing may become affected if the muscles of respiration, including the diaphragm, are involved.
Causes of Cervical Myelopathy
Damage to the spinal cord comes from many areas. The blood supply to the cervical portion of the spinal cord can be affected by atherosclerosis as well as fractures of the neck. External compression can come from spinal stenosis, herniated cervical discs, fractures and dislocations of the cervical spine. Tumors on the outside of the spinal cord and tumors within the spinal cord can all lead to cervical myelopathy. Diseases that damage part of the spinal cord, such as multiple sclerosis and acute transverse myelitis, can produce cervical myelopathy.
Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Myelopathy
When fibers supplying information to the legs are affected, unsteady gait and difficulty walking with the eyes closed of in the dark may occur. The bladder and bowel may not function normally. Weakness or numbness of the legs and torso may occur. When fibers are affected that supply the arms, weakness, numbness and poor coordination may occur. If the spinal cord is involved high up in neck, the muscles which are vital for respiration, including the diaphragm, may not function adequately. This may lead to difficulties with breathing and shortness of breath. Damage to the sympathetic nervous fibers, that are important in supplying the blood vessels of the body, can lead to lightheadedness, especially when standing. Erectile dysfunction can develop.
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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