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Medical term of the day: Tarlov cyst
Tarlov cysts are fluid-filled nerve root cysts found most commonly at the sacral level of the spine – the vertebrae at the base of the spine. These cysts typically occur along the posterior nerve roots. Cysts can be valved or nonvalved. The main feature that distinguishes Tarlov cysts from other spinal lesions is the presence of spinal nerve root fibers within the cyst wall or in the cyst cavity itself.
Incidence and Prevalence Small, asymptomatic Tarlov cysts are actually present in an estimated 5 to 9 percent of the general population. However, large cysts that cause symptoms are relatively rare (Kim's note: some studies estimate that this only applies to less than 2% of the total population). Tarlov cysts were first identified in 1938, yet there is still very limited scientific knowledge available.
An estimated 3 percent of respondents had no pain; 4.2 percent categorized their pain as very mild; 7.6 percent as mild; 31.5 percent as moderate; 38.6 percent as severe (Kim's note: this is me - severe!); and 15.1 percent as very severe.
Symptoms An increase in pressure in or on the cysts may increase symptoms and cause nerve damage. Sitting, standing, walking and bending are typically painful, and often, the only position that provides relief is reclining flat on one’s side. Symptoms vary greatly by patient and may flare up and then subside. Any of the following may be present in patients that have symptomatic Tarlov cysts:
Pain in the area of the nerves affected by the cysts, especially the buttocks
Weakness of muscles
Difficulty sitting for prolonged periods
Loss of sensation on the skin
Loss of reflexes
Changes in bowel function, such as constipation
Changes in bladder function, including increased frequency or incontinence