Spinal epidural lipomatosis (SEL) is a rare condition defined as pathological overgrowth of the normally present epidural fat within the spinal canal. SEL is associated with Cushing disease, obesity and chronic corticosteroid therapy. Diabetes mellitus type 1 (DM1) has not known to be a risk factor for SEL. The neurological symptoms of SEL are attributed mainly to mechanical compression on the spinal cord and the cauda equina.
A retrospective chart review of patients evaluated at NYU Multiple Sclerosis Care Center identified three diabetic patients with progressive myelopathy associated with SEL. We report the clinical course, diagnostic workup and outcomes in these three patients with SEL-associated myelopathy.
Three patients (2 females and 1 male) had long-standing DM1 and developed progressive myelopathy in their early 40’s. All were found to have thoracic SEL (extensive extradural T1, T2 hyperintense signal; biopsy confirmed in one case) with associated extensive abnormal cord signal in lower cervical/upper thoracic spinal cord. A comprehensive evaluation for metabolic, infectious, autoimmune and vascular causes of myelopathy that included serologies, cerebrospinal fluid analyses, and spinal angiography did not reveal an alternative cause for myelopathy. One of the patients underwent a surgical decompression of SEL with subsequent clinical and radiologic improvement.
Our case series suggest that patients with DM1 and myelopathy of unknown cause should be evaluated for SEL. Timely diagnosis and appropriate intervention may forestall progression of neurological disability and even result in neurologic improvement. SEL should be considered on the short list of diagnoses that cause potentially reversible progressive myelopathy.

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