Chiari malformation is a medical condition that often occurs when the skull is misshapen or is abnormally small. Because of this, the brain is being pushed downwards into the spinal canal, so that some brain tissues are protruding in the spinal canal. Although this condition is uncommon, more and more people are being diagnosed because of the improved imaging tests that are available these days.
There are two common types of Chiari malformation. Type I Chiari malformation is also known as the adult form, which develops during the growth and development of the skull and the brain. The symptoms for this type occur during late childhood or even adulthood. On the other hand, Type II Chiari malformation, the pediatric form, is the most common type. It is congenital in nature.
There are two less common but more severe types of Chiari malformation, which is the type III and type IV. In type III, the Chiari malformation symptoms are more severe since a portion of the cerebellum or brainstem is already protruding through an abnormal opening at the back of the skull. This is usually diagnosed at birth, and can even be detected even before birth through intrauterine ultrasound. In type IV, the brain was never able to develop normally at all because of the severity of the condition.
However, a lot of people do not develop symptoms of Chiari malformation, thereby not necessitating treatment. There are even ones that are only accidentally diagnosed through imaging tests done for completely different disorders.
For those with symptomatic type I Chiari malformation, the symptoms usually manifest during late childhood or early adulthood. The classic symptom is severe headache, usually brought about by sneezing, coughing or straining. Neck pain radiating towards the shoulders can also be experienced. Since the brain is affected, problems with coordination and balance can surface, and dizziness can also be felt every now and then. Other Chiari malformation symptoms include numbness and tingling sensations on the extremities, swallowing difficulties, vision problems and slurred speech.
There are also other less common symptoms that people with Chiari malformation may experience, such as ringing in the ears, chest pain, poor bladder control, scoliosis, and even sleep apnea, or periods of breathing pauses during sleep.
For babies diagnosed with Chiari malformation type II, the symptoms can be likened to those found in myelomeningocele, a form of spina bifida which often accompanies Chiari malformation. In myelomeningocele, the spinal canal was unable to close completely before birth, which is why Chiari malformation occurs.
Treatment is usually not needed if the condition is asymptomatic. However, once the Chiari malformation symptoms start showing up, it is important to call on your doctor for evaluation. A lot of the symptoms are the same and overlap with other brain disorders, so thorough tests and evaluation need to be done before you can be diagnosed. For example, headache can be indicative of a simple migraine or something as big as a malignant brain tumor. There are also disorders of the nervous system that have the same symptoms as those found in Chiari malformation.
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