Chiari malformations describes a group of conditions in which the cerebellum, the part of the brain just above the nape of the neck, sits below the opening between the skull and the spinal canal. Normally, the cerebellum sits entirely within the skull. Chiari Malformation can be a result of a smaller than usual lower portion of the skull. A Chiari malformation can cause blockage of the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which leads to increased pressure around the brain. Chiari malformations usually arise during early development. There are types of Chiari malformation, depending on how far into the spinal canal the lower parts of the cerebellum have extended.
Patients with Chiari malformation may have any or none of the following symptoms: neck pain, balance problems, weakness, numbness, vomiting, headache or coordination problems. Chiari malformation can also be associated with other conditions including: hydrocephalus, spina bifida, or syringomyelia to name a few. Sometimes, Chiari malformation is diagnosed incidentally, via brain imaging done for other purposes. Chiari malformation is usually diagnosed with an MRI or CT scan. Sometimes bony abnormalities can be seen with X-rays.
Treatment for Chiari malformation depends on the severity of symptoms. Sometimes people are treated symptomatically with pain medications. In other instances, Chiari decompression may be performed to create more space for the cerebellum and relieve pressure on the spinal column.