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Overview of Spinal Cord Disorders

by Michael Rubin, MDCM

Spinal cord disorders can cause permanent severe neurologic disability. For some patients, such disability can be avoided or minimized if evaluation and treatment are rapid. Spinal cord disorders usually result from conditions extrinsic to the cord—eg, compression due to spinal stenosis, herniated disk, tumor, abscess, or hematoma. Less commonly, disorders are intrinsic to the cord. Intrinsic disorders include infarction (see Spinal Cord Infarction), hemorrhage, transverse myelitis (see Acute Transverse Myelitis), HIV infection, poliovirus infection (see Poliomyelitis), syphilis (which can cause tabes dorsalis—see Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD):Late or tertiary syphilis), trauma (see Spinal Trauma), vitamin B 12 deficiency (which causes subacute combined degeneration—see Symptoms and Signs), decompression sickness (see Decompression Sickness), lightning injury (which can cause keraunoparalysis—see Lightning Injuries), radiation therapy (which can cause myelopathy), syrinx (see Syrinx of the Spinal Cord or Brain Stem), and spinal cord tumor (see Spinal Cord Tumors). Arteriovenous malformations may be extrinsic or intrinsic (see Spinal Cord Arteriovenous Malformations). Copper deficiency may result in myelopathy similar to that caused by vitamin B 12 deficiency. Spinal nerve roots outside of the spinal cord may also be damaged (see Nerve Root Disorders).

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