Object. Improved neuroimaging techniques have led to an increase in the reported cases of intramedullary cavernomas. The purpose of this study was to define the spectrum of presenting signs and symptoms in patients with spinal intramedullary cavernomas and to analyze the role of surgery as a treatment for these lesions.
Methods. The authors reviewed the charts of 16 patients who underwent surgery for spinal intramedullary cavernomas. All patients underwent preoperative magnetic resonance imaging studies. Cavernomas represented 14 (5.0%) of 280 intramedullary lesions found in adults and two (1.1%) of 181 intramedullary lesions found in pediatric cases. A posterior laminectomy and surgical resection of the malformation were performed in all 16 patients.
Conclusions. Magnetic resonance imaging is virtually diagnostic for spinal cavernoma lesions. Patients with spinal intramedullary cavernomas presented with either an acute onset of neurological compromise or a slowly progressive neurological decline. Acute neurological decline occurs secondary to hemorrhage within the spinal cord. Chronic progressive myelopathy occurs due to microhemorrhages and the resulting gliotic reaction to hemorrhagic products. There is no evidence that cavernomas increase in size. The rate of rebleeding is unknown, but spinal cavernomas appear to be clinically more aggressive than cranial cavernomas, probably because the spinal cord is less tolerant of mass lesions. Complete surgical removal of the cavernoma was possible in 15 of 16 of the authors' cases.