Chiari Malformation

What is Chiari Malformation?

Chiari malformation is a problem with the structure of your brain’s balance control center, the cerebellum, according to the National Institutes of Health. This may be the result of abnormalities in the formation of the lower back part of your skull, which can push against the cerebellum and brain stem, blocking the flow of cushioning cerebrospinal fluid.

Chiari malformations may also be associated with hydrocephalus, curving of the spine and fluid-filled cysts in the spinal cord.

Types of Chiari Malformation

There are three main types of Chiari malformation:

  • Type I
  • Type II, which usually occurs at the same time as spina bifida
  • Type III, which usually causes serious neurological problems

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Chiari Malformation

Symptoms of Chiari malformation depend on the type and severity. Most people with Chiari malformation are diagnosed with types I or II, and may not experience any symptoms or need treatment.

However, if you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Difficulty with coordination or balance
  • Pain in your neck
  • Tingling and/or numbness in your hands and feet
  • Problems with vision or speech

While not common, some people with Chiari malformation also experience weakness, changes to their heart rhythm or breathing, curving of the spine, buzzing in their ears. Diagnosis of Chiari malformation is usually made with imaging tests, such as:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan

Treatment of Chiari Malformation

Treatment of Chiari malformation often includes surgery to relieve pressure on the cerebellum and spinal cord. The exact procedure will often vary, depending on the severity, location and type of malformation.

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