Chiari malformations are structural defects in the base of the skull and cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance. If this occurs during fetal development, it is referred to as a primary Chiari malformation. If may also occur if spinal fluid is drained excessively from the lumbar or thoracic areas of the spine due to traumatic injury, disease, or infection, and in this case, is considered acquired or secondary malformation.
Headache is the most common symptom of chiari malformation; however, other symptoms include neck pain, hearing or balance problems, muscle weakness or numbness, dizziness, difficulty swallowing or speaking, vomiting, ringing/buzzing in the ears, curvature of the spine, insomnia, depression and/or problems with fine motor skills.
Some chiari malformations do not show symptoms and do not interfere with a person’s activities of daily living. In these cases, doctors may only recommend regular monitoring with MRI. When individuals experience pain or headaches, doctors may prescribe medications to help ease symptoms.
In many cases, surgery is the only treatment available to ease symptoms or halt the progression of damage to the central nervous system. Surgery can improve or stabilize symptoms in most individuals. More than one surgery may be needed to treat the condition.
“Chiari Malformation Fact Sheet”, NINDS, Publication date June 2017.
NIH Publication No. 17-4839