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Chiari Malformations

What is a Chiari malformation?

A congenital abnormality, Chiari malformation is a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal, occurring at the back of the head where the brain and spinal cord meet.

Common symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of Chiari malformation present; many people with type I don't have symptoms and won't need treatment. For those who do, symptoms typically appear during late childhood or adulthood. Severe headaches at the back of the head, which typically occur after coughing, sneezing or straining, are the condition's classic symptom. Other symptoms may include neck pain, problems with balance, poor hand coordination, numbness/tingling in the hands and feet, dizziness, trouble swallowing, vision problems or difficulty with speech.

How is Chiari malformation diagnosed?

The more severe forms of the condition, types II and III, are generally diagnosed on ultrasound during pregnancy or at birth. Type I may be diagnosed with a physical exam and imaging tests, typically a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. For those without symptoms, the condition may be discovered during the course of diagnosing or treating another unrelated condition.

How is Chiari malformation treated?

Some symptomatic Chiari malformations can be managed with pain medication. In other cases, surgery to relieve pressure on the brain and spinal cord may be needed to ease symptoms or stop the progression of central nervous system damage. During the surgery, called posterior fossa decompression, the surgeon will remove a small part of bone from the skull to give the brain more room. He or she may also remove a small portion of the spinal cord.

The surgeons at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can help you decide on the treatment that's best for you. They specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery and are experienced in diagnosing and treating disc disorders and disease, using the newest techniques for relieving pain and returning you to an active lifestyle. To make an appointment at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, call (919) 784-1410.


Mayo Clinic
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke