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Chiari I Malformation - Awareness

Robert Karns

September is Chiari Awareness Month. This designation is made to raise awareness of Chiari malformation and to help raise funds for programs and research to benefits people living with Chiari malformation. It is important for everyone to be aware of what Chiari I malformation is and the devastating effects it can have.

Chiari I malformation is a neurological disorder where part of the brain (cerebellum) dips down out of the skull into the area of the spine. This compresses part of the brain and spinal cord and blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that is necessary for the brain and spine to operate properly.

Chiari I malformation may be asymptomatic (no symptoms) but when there are symptoms they can include:

  • Headaches
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Vision problems
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness

Chiari I malformation can be diagnosed by undergoing an MRI of the brain and cervical spine that will clearly depict the area of the cerebellum and whether or not it dips down into the spinal area causing the condition. If this is the case then a lower MRI can be done down into the thoracic spine to depict if there is a syringomyelia (blockage down into the cervical or thoracic spine caused by the malformation.

Chiari I malformation can be congenital (born with it) and may be asymptomatic. If there are no symptoms then subsequent events can aggravate the asymptomatic Chiari I malformation causing symptoms. Traumatic events such as an automobile accident can aggravate asymptomatic Chiari I malformation.

In addition to being congenital, Chiari I malformation can be acquired. This can happen when an excessive amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is drain away because of injury, infection or exposure to toxic substances.

Personal injuries can aggravate asymptomatic Chiari I malformation or cause Chiari I malformation.

Treatment can consist of treating the individual symptoms with medication such as controlling headaches. If the symptoms are interfering with the quality of life or getting worse then surgery can be done including decompression surgery where more space is made around the cerebellum and restore the normal flow of CSF. Another type of surgery that can be done would be placing a shunt (tube) to channel the flow of CSF and relieve pressure.

It is extremely important that everyone be aware of Chiari I malformation and its causes and symptoms. Someone involved in a motor vehicle accident may have a headache and think that they are suffering from a traumatic headache or cervical strain when in fact they may need medical evaluation for Chiari I malformation. Chiari I malformation, its symptoms and treatment must be realized to properly protect the health of the victim.

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