Arachnoid cysts are a common type of cyst which can affect the brain or spinal cord. Many arachnoid cysts remain constant in size and do not cause symptoms or require any treatment. However, depending on their size and location, some arachnoid cysts can cause pressure on the brain or spinal cord, which can result in headaches and vision problems. Treatment may be recommended if symptoms become problematic.
What Is An Arachnoid Cyst?
Arachnoid cysts are sacs filled with cerebrospinal fluid that occur on the arachnoid membrane which covers the brain and spinal cord. Cerebrospinal fluid occurs naturally and provides protection to your brain and spinal column. An arachnoid cyst can cause fluid to accumulate and prevent it from being reabsorbed into the surrounding tissue.
The exact cause of arachnoid cysts is still unclear, but research suggests that they can arise if the arachnoid membrane tears or splits during the developmental stages. Most often, arachnoid cysts are congenital, meaning they are present from birth. These are called primary arachnoid cysts. Secondary arachnoid cysts are ones that develop later in life as the result of an injury or trauma to the head or spinal cord, from complications from brain or spinal surgery, or from a health condition such as meningitis or a tumor.
Arachnoid cysts do not usually produce any symptoms and may only be discovered following an examination for a different issue, such as a head injury. Sometimes however, depending on the location and size of the arachnoid cyst, symptoms can develop if the cyst puts pressure on nerves or sensitive parts of the brain. Arachnoid cysts in the brain can cause symptoms like:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Vision or hearing abnormalities
- Problems with balance or walking
- Developmental problems (such as growth, sexual development)
- Behavioral changes
- Cognitive impairment (inability to concentrate, remember, or make decisions)
- Hydrocephalus (excessive cerebrospinal fluid in the brain)
- Visible deformities to the head
- Uncontrolled head bobbing
Arachnoid cysts located in the spinal column can cause symptoms including:
- Muscle weakness and/or spasms
- Trouble moving your legs
- Tingling or loss of sensation in your arms or legs
- Back pain
Diagnosis And Treatment
If an arachnoid cyst is suspected, imaging tests are used to identify and diagnose it, such an MRI or CT scan.
Many arachnoid cysts remain stable in size and do not cause symptoms. They may only be discovered inadvertently, following an examination after a head injury. If no symptoms are present, conservative treatment is usually recommended, meaning regular monitoring to check for any changes or potential growth in size. If symptoms occur, the cyst will be re-evaluated and treatment may be recommended.
Treatment will depend largely on the size and location of the cyst and the severity of the symptoms. Some types of cysts may require surgery to remove them completely and to repair the defective membrane. This is more common with arachnoid cysts in the spinal column. With advances in micro-neurosurgical techniques and endoscopic tools, some procedures can now be carried out in a minimally invasive way, which can reduce recovery time and complications. Other treatments for arachnoid cysts include:
A craniotomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing a small portion of the skull to give access to the cyst. An opening is then created in the wall of the cyst (fenestration), which allows the cerebrospinal fluid to drain out, where it is then reabsorbed into surrounding tissue.
Shunting is a less invasive procedure to remove pressure from the cyst. It involves inserting a tube into the cyst, which remains in place and allows any cerebrospinal fluid to drain away from the cyst and be reabsorbed.
Arachnoid Cyst Treatment in Lone Tree, Colorado Springs, and Aurora, Colorado
If you are finding your symptoms becoming problematic, an experienced neurosurgeon will be able to recommend the best treatment for you based on the size and location of your cyst, your medical history, overall health, and other factors.
The surgeons at Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery are experts in all areas of neurosurgery, including treatments for cranial conditions such as arachnoid cysts. If you would like more information about the treatments and services we provide, call us today at (303) 790-1800 or request an appointment online.