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What Is Eagle Syndrome?

If Eagle syndrome is suspected, an individual may have to undergo a CT scan for confirmation.
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  • Written By: Caitlin Kenney
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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Eagle syndrome is a medical condition in which the styloid process is abnormally long, extending over 1.18 in (30mm), and the stylohyoid ligament has undergone calcification. Though the exact causes remain debated, this condition has been linked with aging and trauma and is more common in females than males. The condition may present symptoms of chronic dull pain, or sharp pains when swallowing, stretching the tongue, or turning the head. Roughly 4% of the general population have an elongated styloid process, but only 4-10% of these patients exhibit symptoms, making Eagle syndrome fairly rare.

The term styloid process has three different applications in anatomy: radius, ulna, and temporal. Eagle syndrome is concerned with the temporal styloid process, a thin bone which protrudes downward and outwards from the base of the temporal bone in the skull, close to the ear. The temporal styloid process articulates with several muscles and nerves that help control the tongue and larynx. It also connects with the stylohyoid ligament, a fibrous band that attaches the styloid process to the stylohyoideous muscle, which controls the floor of the mouth.

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The exact causes of this syndrome are not known, though several explanations have been offered. The syndrome was first described by Dr. Watt W. Eagle, an otolaryngologist at Duke University in 1937. He believed chronic irritation in the stylohyoid region or scar tissue from a surgical trauma could cause ossification, or hardening, of the ligament and osteitis, a condition in which bones grow irregularly. Doctors have also suggested that the ossification occurring in Eagle syndrome is linked to endocrine disorders in menopausal women. Others believe that Eagle syndrome may stem from trauma caused in the development stages of the styloid process.

There are two forms of Eagle syndrome, as proposed by Eagle. The first, “classic” form occurs after a local trauma or surgical stress, such as from a tonsillectomy. The classic form presents symptoms of chronic, dull pain on the side of the head affected and, in some cases, a bulge between the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat on the same side. Pressure on this bulge will likely cause increased pain.

The second form, known as “stylocarotid syndrome,” occurs when the styloid process is deformed so that it extends sideways and compresses the internal or external carotid artery. A patient with the second form of Eagle syndrome may experience pain along the artery on one side of the neck when turning the head, and pain above or below the eye, depending on which artery is affected. This form is not related to a history of tonsillectomy.

If a patient exhibits these symptoms, a doctor may diagnose the patient by palpating (touching) the tip of the styloid process and ordering an x-ray called a computed tomography (CT) scan. Doctors often prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain medications, but if the case is severe, the patient may require styloidectomy surgery to remove the problematic portion of the styloid process. Surgery may be conducted from the outside of the neck (extraoral) or from the inside (intraoral), but intraoral is preferred.

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anon358506
Post 19

I'm in the UK and had surgery 18 months ago Things were much better at first but are not so great now. I think internal scar tissue may be causing problems?

I hear from lots of people on the 'living with eagle syndrome' website that Mr Congetti is the man in US. I'm not sure where he is, but surely you can find him online. In UK I recommend Mr Rogan Corbridge, based at Royal Berkshire Hosp for NHS patients, or Circle Reading Hospital as a private patient. It took me five years to be diagnose. Surgery can be great for some people but is not for everybody.

anon350899
Post 18

I found out this Monday that I have Eagle Syndrome and it feels so good to finally know what is wrong with me. I have been to doctor after doctor for a while now. The feeling of knowing that there is a name to what I have is great. I thought I was crazy for a long time because of how the pain is and the doctors giving me an antibiotic here and there and it not working.

I thought for a long time my jaw might be broken. It would hurt to eat and do simple stuff such as brushing my teeth. Having a doctor who is listening to me and understands what I have is a great feeling.

anon329599
Post 17

I too have eagle syndrome and was only diagnosed after seven years of going to doctors and dentists with what felt like a lump in my throat, jaw pain, earache. The dentist removed a tooth thinking it was that, but back to doctors with no luck. I finally found an ENT doctor who took a CT scan which showed a calcified styroid. He said he had done two unsuccessful surgeries with no improvement so did not want to do one for me. Five years later, I still have problems now with my neck and with migraines. I need another ct scan to check how long it has grown. The story goes on.

anon284714
Post 16

If you are having pain after the surgery for Eagle syndrome, you may just be having lots of scar tissue in the area of the surgery. I had acupuncture to break up the scar tissue and lots of massage of neck, behind my ear, etc. The muscles in the area may also be tight!

anon284712
Post 15

I did have Eagle syndrome but did not know it for quite some time! Very painful, lots of swelling, hard to swallow. The symptoms got much much worse after I had cervical surgery on c5/c6 (fusion). For some reason, six months after the surgery, I started getting all the crazy symptoms.

About 18 months later, I had surgery in NY, St Vincents hospital, where styloid process was cut down and a calcified stylohyoid ligament was removed. I feel so much better! I still and always will have TMJ, which I have had for over 25 years. But the surgery definitely relieved my pain!

I am told I have the same thing on the other side, but it is not bothering me so I do not want to mess with it! Best of luck. Make sure you go to an excellent head and neck surgeon! This is a very sensitive area.

anon280468
Post 14

I am having a CT scan and XRAY next week after being told I likely have Eagle's syndrome. I had a head injury five years ago and have tinnitus, facial pain, a feeling of a pit in my throat, choking episodes and difficulty managing my saliva. I have had so many workups for all these different symptoms, I actually feel a little relieved to think it may be this. Anyone have surgery and what was the recuperation like?

vathsala
Post 13

My friend is suffering a lot from eagle syndrome. It is like he is like dying. Sometimes he is telling me he will die. He is in Sri Lanka and is 38 years old. Can someone tell me a doctor who can do this surgery in Sri Lanka, India, Singapore or in this region?

anon223200
Post 9

Yes, I had Eagle Syndrome. I had surgery to remove mine and felt wonderful for about six months. I know I am having almost the same pain. I have to call my the doctor and see what is going on.

anon157421
Post 8

My bio-father may have this. They're putting him on meds to see how they do in a couple of weeks. One of the possible diagnoses is Eagle Syndrome. He is 66.

anon152044
Post 7

I am a 19 year old female with eagle syndrome. Three and a half years ago I started having the attacks and went to the doctor and confirmed it with an x-ray. I have chronic pain in the front of my neck and when I have an attack that pain gets really intense and then when I swallow it feels like there's a broken bone or something stabbing in my neck and the pain is unbearable. I was on an anti seizure medicine which didn't help much the only thing that's ever worked was vicodin. Next week I am going to see a doctor that can do the surgery so hopefully I can get that soon.

anon131749
Post 5

I have recently been diagnosed with Eagle Syndrome. I have searched high an low including the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor. They didn't have a clue as to what I was talking about. Mine seems to flare up in the colder winter months, which also brings on constant terrible sore throats throughout the whole winter.

I am very frustrated that I cannot find a doctor who deals with this.

My next options will be to contact the Mayo Clinic, and also Duke University Medical Center, as this is where Dr. Watts Eagle discovered this syndrome back in 1937.

anon126868
Post 4

I was diagnosed with this problem about 8 years ago. I also have tmj. When I was diagnosed, I was not presented with any treatment options for the eagles syndrome, but was referred to a local dentist for tmj treatment.

The dentist was able to correct my tmj using a splint and adjusting it over a time period of a little over a year. My tmj was had been misdiagnosed for many years. My eagles syndrome symptoms are neck pain, pain between my shoulders, pain down my arm, difficulty swallowing, and most troublesome of all, sleeplessness.

I had my esophagus stretched which made all the symptoms worse. No one believed my sleep issues were part of this syndrome. Last week I was eating and swallowed. It felt like I had swallowed a peach pit. It was very painful. Afterward, I started belching a lot. I assumed I had swallowed a lot of air. After that, all my symptoms were gone. I can hardly believe it!

A friend had prayed for me a healing a few days prior to all this happening, so I am claiming it as such. I am not hurting and best of all, I am sleeping. For years I had stopped feeling "sleepy". I felt like I was on caffeine, which I had quit drinking many years ago thinking that was part of the problem.

I took sleeping meds and relaxants, all of which would work to some extent. I told my doctors I felt like a light bulb. I was awake and then I was not. I never felt the sleepy sensation, but my body and mind were totally exhausted all the time.

I am being very careful when I turn my neck for fear I will once again experience the hell I went through for years.

I know what you guys are experiencing and I know it is real. I just pray you will be able to find a doctor who can help you, as I never could. I thank God for the relief I have and I will pray for all of you who experiencing this horrible condition!

anon103499
Post 3

I been recently diagnosed with Eagle Syndrome. I have a bone 4cm too long in my neck. Xray picked it up.

anon101177
Post 2

i have got it also, after being misdiagnosed with tmj for over 20 years, i was researching on line and found eagle syndrome, confirmed it with an x-ray and I am now trying to find a doctor who has not only heard of it, but also has experience with it. not easy.

anon91016
Post 1

Is there anyone out there that has Eagle Syndrome? I was recently diagnosed with it and would like some info.

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