6 doctors weighed in:

What does it mean to have the spinal cord swell? Why can the spinal cord swell, and how long can it last? What risks/damage does this create?

6 doctors weighed in
Dr. Zachariah George
Neurosurgery
3 doctors agree

In brief: Damage to cord

Swelling in the spinal cord occurs after injury just like in other parts of the body.
The injury can come due to compression (transient or continuous), infarction (lose blood supply), tumor, inflammatory disease, infection and other causes. How long it lasts depends on what the cause is and if it's treated properly. Damage depends on location (cervical, thoracic, lumbar): paralysis, sensory etc.

In brief: Damage to cord

Swelling in the spinal cord occurs after injury just like in other parts of the body.
The injury can come due to compression (transient or continuous), infarction (lose blood supply), tumor, inflammatory disease, infection and other causes. How long it lasts depends on what the cause is and if it's treated properly. Damage depends on location (cervical, thoracic, lumbar): paralysis, sensory etc.
Dr. Zachariah George
Dr. Zachariah George
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Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge
Internal Medicine
1 doctor agrees

In brief: Spinal

Spinal cord swelling, or edema, is usually a major problem. It is typically present after some form of damage to the cord, like trauma, infection, hemorrhage, or compression.
These are often emergency situations. Assuming whatever caused the damage is resolved, the swelling can last from 1 day to a week. But chronic problems will have chronic swelling and may not go away. The main problem is that the cord is already pretty tight, and there is not enough room for the cord to swell, and this can cause compression of the cord. When compressed, the nerve cells and fibers (axons) can be permanently damaged. The problem in the spinal cord is that such damage cannot be repaired. Where this becomes most important is when there is brief damage that can be fixed (like a neck fracture), but if the cord swells it will cause permanent paralysis. So when people have severe cord injuries there is an emergency treatment to stop the cord from swelling, hopefully preventing the delayed paralysis. The cord will swell somewhat, which may temporarily "stun" the cord, but if compression can be avoided people can recover. This is why some people are "paralyzed" with a neck injury, get prompt treatment, and then get their movement back.

In brief: Spinal

Spinal cord swelling, or edema, is usually a major problem. It is typically present after some form of damage to the cord, like trauma, infection, hemorrhage, or compression.
These are often emergency situations. Assuming whatever caused the damage is resolved, the swelling can last from 1 day to a week. But chronic problems will have chronic swelling and may not go away. The main problem is that the cord is already pretty tight, and there is not enough room for the cord to swell, and this can cause compression of the cord. When compressed, the nerve cells and fibers (axons) can be permanently damaged. The problem in the spinal cord is that such damage cannot be repaired. Where this becomes most important is when there is brief damage that can be fixed (like a neck fracture), but if the cord swells it will cause permanent paralysis. So when people have severe cord injuries there is an emergency treatment to stop the cord from swelling, hopefully preventing the delayed paralysis. The cord will swell somewhat, which may temporarily "stun" the cord, but if compression can be avoided people can recover. This is why some people are "paralyzed" with a neck injury, get prompt treatment, and then get their movement back.
Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge
Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge
Thank
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