The spinal cord controls all the motor movements, meaning movement of the limbs, and all the internal organs in our body. So it is the spinal cord which controls how we walk, when we breathe and more. The nerves that form our spinal cord start from the neck or the base of our brain, and extend until the lumbar vertebra. Spinal cord is also referred to as the backbone of the vertebral column.
The spinal cord can be considered as the information highway of a body. It connects the brain and the peripheral nervous system, relaying information between them. because they perform such a vital function for our body, it is protected by three layers of membrane and one layer of bone. These three layers are called the meninges, and they are: the pia mater, the arachnoid mater, and the dura mater.
Injury happens to spinal cord mainly due to trauma caused by a fall or an automobile accident. Any fracture to the vertebral bones will lead to spinal cord compression, resulting in an abnormal functioning of the respective body part they control.
Infection of the spinal cord is called as meningitis. In meningitis, any of the three covering layers of the spinal cord can get infected. Meningitis can be caused by bacteria, virus, or a Protozoa. This infection can spread into the spinal nerves and can cause paralysis or degeneration of the muscles they supply. Another spinal cord disease is tumors. Tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous). These tumors compress the spinal cord causing compression symptoms and disability.
Diagnosis of spinal cord diseases is done mainly by using magnetic resonance imaging, MRI. This technique provides very high quality cross-sectional images of the entire spinal cord. This image will help the doctor to determine what kind of problem the patient is facing, and to advise him about the best treatment options available. Diagnosis of spinal cord diseases using MRI is safer than using a computerized tomography (CT). MRI uses magnetic waves to produce an image, so it is radiation free.
Infectious diseases of spinal cord can be diagnosed by doing lumbar puncture. In this procedure a needle is inserted into the spinal column and the spinal fluid is collected. This fluid is then assessed in a lab under a microscope, and a diagnosis can be reached, pointing out the causative agent. This diagnostic method for spinal cord diseases has an additional advantage of helping us understand the antibiotic susceptibility of the pathogen.
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Treatment modality for spinal cord diseases varies according to the type of problem at hand. Tumors and traumatic injuries of the spinal cord are treated surgically. Treatment for infectious diseases of the spinal cord is initiated by using antibiotics. If the tumor is cancerous, treatment will consist of a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
Prognosis for a patient after undergoing treatment for spinal cord diseases is bleak. This is because of the fact that, nervous tissues have very poor ability to repair themselves or to form new ones. The nerve cells once dead or damaged is lost forever and time cannot heal them nor can any medicines or surgery until date.
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