Arachnoid cysts can be found on the brain, or on the spine. Intracranial arachnoid cysts usually occur adjacent to the arachnoidal cistern. Spinal arachnoid cysts may be extradural, intradural, or perineural and tend to present with signs and symptoms indicative of a radiculopathy.
Arachnoid cysts may also be classified as primary (congenital) or secondary (acquired) and have been reported in humans, cats, and dogs.
Arachnoid cysts can be relatively asymptomatic or present with insidious symptoms; for this reason, diagnosis is often delayed.
Signs and symptoms
Patients with arachnoid cysts may never show symptoms, even in some cases where the cyst is large. Therefore, while the presence of symptoms may provoke further clinical investigation, symptoms independent of further data cannot—and should not—be interpreted as evidence of a cyst's existence, size or location.
Symptoms vary by the size and location of the cyst(s), though small cysts usually have no symptoms and are discovered only incidentally. On the other hand, a number of symptoms may result from large cysts:
Cranial deformation or macrocephaly (enlargement of the head), particularly in children
Cysts in the left middle cranial fossa have been associated with ADHD in a study on affected children.
Headaches. A patient experiencing a headache does not necessarily have an arachnoid cyst.
In a 2002 study involving 78 patients with a migraine or tension-type headache, CT scans showed abnormalities in over a third of the patients, though arachnoid cysts only accounted for 2.6% of patients in this study.
A study found 18% of patients with intracranial arachnoid cysts had non-specific headaches. The cyst was in the temporal location in 75% of these cases.
Frontal arachnoid cysts have been associated with depression.
Cysts on the left temporal lobe have been associated with psychosis. However this remains controversial and subjective to the individual clinician. A left fronto-temporal cyst more specifically showed symptoms of alexithymia.
Patients with left temporal lobe cysts had mood disturbances similar to manic depression (bipolar disorder) and were known to show outward aggression
Most neurosurgeons remain skeptical on the correlation between arachnoid cyst and mental illness and consider the two partially related.
The exact cause of arachnoid cysts is not known. Researchers believe that most cases of arachnoid cysts are developmental malformations that arise from the unexplained splitting or tearing of the arachnoid membrane.
In some cases, arachnoid cysts occurring in the middle fossa are accompanied by underdevelopment (hypoplasia) or compression of the temporal lobe. The exact role that temporal lobe abnormalities play in the development of middle fossa arachnoid cysts is unknown.
There are some cases where hereditary disorders have been connected with arachnoid cysts.
Some complications of arachnoid cysts can occur when a cyst is damaged because of minor head trauma. Trauma can cause the fluid within a cyst to leak into other areas (e.g., subarachnoid space). Blood vessels on the surface of a cyst may tear and bleed into the cyst (intracystic hemorrhage), increasing its size. If a blood vessel bleeds on the outside of a cyst, a collection of blood (hematoma) may result. In the cases of intracystic hemorrhage and hematoma, the individual may have symptoms of increased pressure within the cranium and signs of compression of nearby nerve (neural) tissue.
A scientific debate is whether arachnoid cysts are a true congenite condition or if this should be separated from secondary cysts. A recent study show differences in communication between the arachnoid cyst and the subarachnoid space by CT cisternography . A comparison of arachnoid cyst fluid and CSF in a series of patients show difference in chemical composition.
Axial CT showing a typical arachnoid cyst left temporal
Diagnosis is principally by MRI. Frequently, arachnoid cysts are incidental findings on MRI scans performed for other clinical reasons. In practice, diagnosis of symptomatic arachnoid cysts requires symptoms to be present, and many with the disorder never develop symptoms.
Additional clinical assessment tools that can be useful in evaluating a patient with arachnoid cysts include the mini-mental state examination (MMSE), a brief questionnaire-based test used to assess cognition.
Most arachnoid cysts are asymptomatic and do not require treatment. Treatment may be necessary when symptomatic. A variety of procedures may be used to decompress (remove pressure from) the cyst.
Pharmacological treatments may address specific symptoms such as seizures or pain.
Most arachnoid cysts are asymptomatic, and do not require treatment. Where complications are present, leaving arachnoid cysts untreated, may cause permanent severe neurological damage due to the progressive expansion of the cyst(s) or hemorrhage (bleeding). However, with treatment most individuals with symptomatic arachnoid cysts do well.
More specific prognoses are listed below:
Patients with impaired preoperative cognition had postoperative improvement after surgical decompression of the cyst.
Surgery can resolve psychiatric manifestations in selected cases.
Arachnoid cysts are seen in up to 1.1% of the population with a gender distribution of 2:1 male:female  Only 20% of these have symptoms, usually from secondary hydrocephalus.
A study that looked at 2,536 healthy young males found a prevalence of 1.7% (95% CI 1.2 to 2.3%). Only a small percentage of the detected abnormalities require urgent medical attention.
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