Spinal Diseases /Disorders

What are Brain and Spinal Tumors?

Brain and spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the skull or the bony spinal column, which are the primary components of the central nervous system (CNS). Benign tumors are noncancerous, and malignant tumors are cancerous. The CNS is housed within rigid, bony quarters (i.e., the skull and spinal column), so any abnormal growth, whether benign or malignant, can place pressure on sensitive tissues and impair function. Tumors that originate in the brain or spinal cord are called primary tumors. Most primary tumors are caused by out-of-control growth among cells that surround and support neurons. In a small number of individuals, primary tumors may result from specific genetic disease (e.g., neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis) or from exposure to radiation or cancer-causing chemicals. The cause of most primary tumors remains a mystery. They are not contagious and, at this time, not preventable. Symptoms of brain tumors include headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting, vision or hearing problems, behavioral and cognitive problems, motor problems, and balance problems. Spinal cord tumor symptoms include pain, sensory changes, and motor problems. The first test to diagnose brain and spinal column tumors is a neurological examination. Special imaging techniques (computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography) are also employed. Laboratory tests include the EEG and the spinal tap. A biopsy, a surgical procedure in which a sample of tissue is taken from a suspected tumor, helps doctors diagnose the type of tumor.

Is there any treatment?

The three most commonly used treatments are surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Doctors also may prescribe steroids to reduce the swelling inside the CNS.

What is the prognosis?

Symptoms of brain and spinal cord tumors generally develop slowly and worsen over time unless they are treated. The tumor may be classified as benign or malignant and given a numbered score that reflects how malignant it is. This score can help doctors determine how to treat the tumor and predict the likely outcome, or prognosis, for the patient.

Read the rest of this article from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

What is Spinal Muscular Atrophy?

Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Types I, II, and III belong to a group of hereditary diseases that cause weakness and wasting of the voluntary muscles in the arms and legs of infants and children. The disorders are caused by an abnormal or missing gene known as the survival motor neuron gene 1 (SMN1), which is responsible for the production of a protein essential to motor neurons. Without this protein, lower motor neurons in the spinal cord degenerate and die. The type of SMA (I, II, or III) is determined by the age of onset and the severity of symptoms. Type I (also known as Werdnig-Hoffman disease, or infantile-onset SMA) is evident at birth or within the first few months. Symptoms include floppy limbs and trunk, feeble movements of the arms and legs, swallowing and feeding difficulties, and impaired breathing. Type II (the intermediate form) usually begins 6 and 18 months of age. Legs tend to be more impaired than arms. Children with Type II may able to sit and some may be able to stand or walk with help. Symptoms of Type III (also called Kugelberg-Welander disease) appear between 2 and 17 years of age and include difficulty running, climbing steps, or rising from a chair.  The lower extremities are most often affected.  Complications include scoliosis and chronic shortening of muscles or tendons around joints.  

There is no cure for SMA. Treatment consists of managing the symptoms and preventing complications.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis is poor for babies with SMA Type I. Most die within the first two years. For children with SMA Type II, the prognosis for life expectancy or for independent standing or walking roughly correlates with how old they are when they first begin to experience symptoms - older children tend to have less severe symptoms  Life expectancy is reduced but some individuals live into adolescence or young adulthood.  Individuals with SMA type III may be prone to respiratory infections but with care may have a normal lifespan.

Read the rest of this article from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

What is Klippel-Feil Syndrome?

Klippel-Feil Syndrome is a rare disorder characterized by the congenital fusion of any 2 of the 7 cervical (neck) vertebrae. It is caused by a failure in the normal segmentation or division of the cervical vertebrae during the early weeks of fetal development. The most common signs of the disorder are short neck, low hairline at the back of the head, and restricted mobility of the upper spine. Associated abnormalities may include scoliosis (curvature of the spine), spina bifida(a birth defect of the spine), anomalies of the kidneys and the ribs, cleft palate, respiratory problems, and heart malformations. The disorder also may be associated with abnormalities of the head and face, skeleton, sex organs, muscles, brain and spinal cord, arms, legs, and fingers.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment for Klippel-Feil Syndrome is symptomatic and may include surgery to relieve cervical or craniocervical instability and constriction of the spinal cord, and to correct scoliosis. Physical therapy may also be useful.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for most individuals with Klippel-Feil Syndrome is good if the disorder is treated early and appropriately. Activities that can injure the neck should be avoided.

Read the rest of this article from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Locate information about other conditions from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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