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Spinal Epidural Lipomatosis (SEL)

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Spinal epidural lipomatosis (SEL) is a rare condition in which excess fat tissue can accumulate on or around the lining of the spinal cord and put pressure on the nerves, resulting in back pain, tingling, weakness, or other symptoms. SEL is more common in men than in women, and is often associated with longtime use of steroids to treat conditions such as asthma. Being overweight may also be a contributing factor. In rare cases, epidural lipomatosis may be associated with Cushing's disease, Cushing syndrome, hypothyroidism, or pituitary prolactinoma.

Spinal epidural lipomatosis is diagnosed using CT or MRI scans, which show the location and extent of the fat deposits. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment may involve tapering off a steroid or a weight-loss regimen.

Surgery may be necessary for patients whose scans show large fat deposits causing severe pressure on the spinal cord. In order to prevent irreversible injury, doctors can remove the fat deposits using a “spinal liposuction” procedure.

Reviewed by: Eric Elowitz, MD
Last reviewed/last updated: October 2020