Tarlov cysts are abnormal sacs of spinal fluid that usually form at the lower end of the spine (sacrum). What distinguishes Tarlov cysts is the presence of spinal nerve fibers within the cyst wall.
The cause of a Tarlov cyst is unknown but may be related to:
Once you have a Tarlov cyst, the following may cause it to become painful or cause other symptoms:
Although gender may not be a risk factor, Tarlov cysts have more often been found in women than men.
Most of the time Tarlov cysts do not cause symptoms. Cysts may cause pain and other signs of nerve irritation, such as weakness, numbness, burning, and tingling. In some cases, it can cause problems with bladder and bowel function.
An increase in pressure in or on the cyst may increase symptoms and cause nerve damage. Symptoms can vary from person to person.
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to Tarlov cysts. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. She will also do a physical exam. Depending on your symptoms, you may need to see a specialist, such as a neurosurgeon.
Tests may include the following imaging techniques:
If you are experiencing symptoms, talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.
Treatment options might include:
There are no guidelines to reduce your risk of forming a Tarlov cyst. If you have a Tarlov cyst that does not cause pain or other symptoms, avoiding injury or heavy lifting may reduce your chance of developing pain or other symptoms.
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Tarlov Cyst Disease Foundation
American Academy of Neurology Foundation. Tarlov cysts. American Academy of Neurology Foundation website. Available at: http://www.thebrai... . Accessed May 12, 2009.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Tarlov cyst. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.neurosu... . Updated November 2006. Accessed June 15, 2010.
Mayo Clinic. Tarlov cysts: a cause of low back pain? Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tarlov-cysts/AN01603 . Updated May 22, 2009. Accessed May 12, 2009.
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Therapeutic percutaneous image-guided aspiration of spinal cysts. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence website. Available at: http://www.nice.org.uk/nicemedia/pdf/IPG223guidance.pdf . Updated August 2007. Accessed May 12, 2009.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Tarlov cyst information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tarlov_cysts/tarlov_cysts.htm . Updated March 12, 2009. Accessed May 12, 2009.
Tarlov Cyst Disease Foundation. Tarlov cyst information. Tarlov Cyst Disease Foundation website. Available at: http://www.tarlovcystfoundation.org/TarlovCystInformation.asp . Accessed June 10, 2010.
Last reviewed June 2012 by John C. Keel, MD
Last Updated: 06/04/2012