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Hydromyelia refers to an abnormal widening of the central canal of the spinal cord. This widened area creates a cavity in which cerebrospinal fluid (commonly known as spinal fluid) can build up. As spinal fluid builds up, it may put abnormal pressure on the spinal cord, and damage nerve cells and their connections.

Hydromyelia is sometimes used interchangeably with syringomyelia, the name for a condition that also involves a cavity in the spinal cord.

In hydromyelia, the cavity is connected to the fourth ventricle in the brain. Hydromyelia almost always happens in infants and children; it is associated with birth defects such as Chiari malformation type 2 and Dandy-Walker syndrome.

Syringomyelia, however, features a closed cavity and mainly happens in adults. Most adults with hydromyelia have Chiari malformation type 1 or have had a traumatic (serious and long-lasting) injury to their spinal cord.

Symptoms may happen over time and may include:

  • Weakness of the hands and arms
  • Stiffness in the legs
  • Sensory loss in the neck and arms
  • Severe pain in the neck and arms

Diagnosis is made by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which reveals abnormalities in the anatomy of the spinal cord. Doctors often recommend surgery for children with hydromyelia if they have moderate or severe neurological deficits such as loss of balance, not being able to speak, memory loss, or other problems.

Surgical treatment helps spinal fluid to flow normally. Surgery may permanently or temporarily help with symptoms, but it can also cause several serious complications. In rare cases, hydromyelia may go away on its own.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with hydromyelia?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about hydromyelia and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with hydromyelia at

Where can I find more information about hydromyelia?

The following organization may provide resources:

March of Dimes
Phone: 888-663-4637

Content source: Accessed June 23, 2023.

The information in this document is for general educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for personalized professional advice. Although the information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, MedLink, its representatives, and the providers of the information do not guarantee its accuracy and disclaim responsibility for adverse consequences resulting from its use. For further information, consult a physician and the organization referred to herein.

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