Chiari Malformation: Planning for the Future

April 2021

If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with Chiari Malformation and you donโ€™t know what that means, maybe this post will help.

Although Chiari Malformation can happen to anyone, it is more common in young women of childbearing age who have given birth three or more times. Itโ€™s also known as Arnold-Chiari malformation and its most common symptoms are headaches and trouble balancing.

This post will briefly explain some of the key points about the condition, including how it is diagnosed and why symptoms progress to be debilitating for so many people. There are also a few tips for managing the condition and living life fully despite it.


Chiari Malformation usually presents with non-specific symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and visual disturbances. It is only when symptoms become more severe that this condition is suspected. At this later stage the prognosis for full recovery is much less likely.

Because the symptoms are usually non-specific, diagnosing this condition can be very difficult. In addition, it is common for people with Chiari Malformation to deny that they have it in the early stages of their disease.

It's possible to have Chiari malformation without having symptoms, but in those who do experience symptoms, they're often quite severe. The condition is diagnosed via imaging techniques such as MRI or CT scans. After diagnosis, it's commonly treated with surgery; minimally invasive decompression strategies are used more regularly than in the past.

How Chiari Malformation Happens: During embryonic development inside the womb of your mother, the brain and spinal cord develop in a series of stages known as neurulation (1). This process involves folding and bending movements which create cavities and hollows within the central nervous system (CNS).


Diagnosing Chiari Malformation is a complex process that relies on detailed clinical findings and CT or MRI scans. The difficulty in diagnosing this condition is that there are many different types of Chiari Malformation and all present differently as symptoms progress over time and because of the other conditions which may accompany the syndrome. The variations and differences in symptoms can also be very small. It is for these reasons that a multi-disciplinary approach has been advocated in the most recent literature.

Different Types of Chiari Malformation

There are only two types of Chiari Malformation: Type I and Type II. In Type I, the cerebellum is protruding through a defect in the back of the skull called the foramen magnum, and in Type II, there is a deficiency in the size of this opening. There are also other less common forms but these types will account for around 90% of cases diagnosed. Chiari malformation is a condition in which the cerebellar tonsils of the brain are too large, and they descend too far down into the spinal canal. This can cause compression of the brain stem and can lead to many different symptoms.

It's also possible that a combination of treatments may be necessary for some patients. The goal is to minimize any neurological deficits and prevent progression or worsening of neurologic symptoms in order to maximize functional abilities.

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