Object: Filum terminale lipomas (FTLs) are being identified with increasing frequency due to the increasing utilization of MRI. Although an FTL may be associated with tethered cord syndrome (TCS), in many cases FTLs are diagnosed incidentally in patients without any symptoms of TCS. The natural history of FTLs is not well defined.
Methods: The authors searched the clinical and imaging records at a single institution over a 14-year interval to identify patients with FTLs. For patients with an FTL, the clinical records were reviewed for indication for imaging, presenting symptoms, perceived need for surgery, and clinical outcome. A natural history analysis was performed using all patients with more than 6 months of clinical follow-up.
Results: A total of 436 patients with FTL were identified. There were 217 males and 219 females. Of these patients, 282 (65%) were adults and 154 (35%) were children. Symptoms of TCS were present in 22 patients (5%). Fifty-two patients underwent surgery for FTL (12%). Sixty-four patients (15%) had a low-lying conus and 21 (5%) had a syrinx. The natural history analysis included 249 patients with a mean follow-up time of 3.5 years. In the follow-up period, only 1 patient developed new symptoms.
Conclusions: Filum terminale lipomas are a common incidental finding on spinal MRI, and most patients present without associated symptoms. The untreated natural history is generally benign for asymptomatic patients.