The NeuroMedical Center | Patient Education Library | Chiari Malformation

Understanding Chiari Malformation (CM)

Chiari malformation (CM) is a structural problem with the back of the brain that involves the cerebellum, or the part of your brain that controls balance. Normally, the cerebellum sits in a space at the base of the skull, just above the opening to the spinal canal called the “foramen magnum.” With Chiari malformation, the cerebellum slips down this opening.

What Causes Chiari Malformation?

CM has several different causes. Most often CM is caused by structural defects in the brain and spinal cord that occur during fetal development, and may be linked to a genetic mutation or to other issues including a maternal diet that lacked certain vitamins and nutrients. These can cause problems with the development of the skull and brain. Chiari malformation may also develop later in life if you lose a lot of spinal fluid due to traumatic injury, disease, or infection. 

Chiari Malformation Symptoms

Some Chiari malformations do not show symptoms and do not interfere with a person’s activities of daily living. 

Headache is the hallmark sign of a CM, especially after coughing or sneezing. CM symptoms vary among individuals and may include:

  • Neck pain
  • Balance & coordination issues
  • Vision & hearing problems
  • Muscle weakness and/or numbness
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

The symptoms depend on the severity of the malformation. In some people, only a small part of the cerebellum pushes down through the hole. That may not cause any symptoms. In severe cases, much more of the brain’s tissue pushes through. In the most severe cases, this causes death.

Infants with a Chiari malformation may have:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Irritability when being fed
  • Excessive drooling
  • Weak cry
  • Gagging or vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Breathing problems
  • Developmental delays
  • Inability to gain weight

How Common is CM?

In the past, it was estimated that the condition occurs in about one in every 1,000 births.  But according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the increased use of diagnostic imaging has shown that CM may be much more common.  Complicating this estimation is the fact that some children who are born with this condition may never develop symptoms or show symptoms only in adolescence or adulthood. 

Expert Treatment for Chiari Malformation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Treatment options for CM depend on your needs. If your malformation is mild, doctors may recommend just monitoring the situation with regular MRI’s and treating the symptoms individually.  If your malformation is more severe, your neurosurgeon may recommend surgery to ease symptoms or halt the progression of damage to the central nervous system.  Trust the region’s best and most experienced team of brain surgeons to expertly evaluate your individual condition and recommend a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Because many symptoms of Chiari malformation can also be associated with other disorders, a thorough medical evaluation is important. Call to schedule an appointment (225) 768-2050 or request an appointment online today!