Horner's syndrome

What causes Horner's syndrome?

There are many potential causes of Horner's syndrome. It can be caused by any interruption in function of the sympathetic nerve fibers, which start in the hypothalamus and run via the upper spinal cord, near the carotid artery, to the face. Nerve function may be impaired due to factors such as injury, compression, or a disease process. Examples of causes of Horner's syndrome include:

  • Birth trauma to the neck and shoulder.
  • A stroke in the brainstem.
  • Injury, blood clot, or dissection of the carotid artery.
  • Trauma or surgery involving the neck, upper spinal cord, or chest.
  • A tumor in the brainstem, hypothalamus, upper spinal cord, neck, eye, abdomen, or chest cavity - particularly a neuroblastoma or a tumor of the upper part of the lung (Pancoast tumor). Neuroblastoma is one of the most common causes of Horner's syndrome in children.
  • Migraines or cluster headaches.
  • Diseases that cause damage to the protective covering that surrounds nerve fibers (demyelinating diseases).
  • Development of a fluid-filled cavity or cyst within the spinal cord (syringomyelia).
  • Arnold-Chiari malformation.
  • Inflammation or growths that affect the lymph nodes of the neck.

Last updated on 05-01-20

How is Horner's syndrome diagnosed?

An ophthalmologist may confirm the diagnosis by special eye tests. In addition, a careful neurological exam may be necessary to find the cause by determining which, if any, other parts of the nervous system are affected. Tests may include:

Last updated on 05-01-20

How might Horner's syndrome be treated?

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. There is no specific treatment for Horner's syndrome itself. In many cases, no effective treatment is known.

Last updated on 05-01-20


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The RareGuru disease database is regularly updated using data generously provided by GARD, the United States Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center.

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