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Chiari Malformation


doctor examining a child with chiari malformations

A Chiari malformation is a deformity of the brain that affects the lower part, which is called the cerebellum. The cerebellum is a vital part of the brain responsible for controlling muscle movement and coordination. Chiari malformation causes the child’s cerebellum to be pushed into the space normally occupied by the spinal cord.


The majority of children who suffer from Chiari malformation are born with it, but some kids develop the condition as they mature and grow.


A few of the most common symptoms associated with Chiari malformation include:

  • Problems with balance
  • Headaches in the rear of the head
  • Numbness and weakness
  • Neck pain
  • Tingling or pain in their arms
  • Uncontrollable eye movements – typically from side to side
  • Decreased gag reflex or problems swallowing
  • Sleep problems caused by sleep apnea
  • Issues with certain motor tasks, such as cutting with scissors or writing


Many kids with Chiari malformation do not experience symptoms and may never require medical treatment. Even so, children diagnosed with this disease should continue to visit their physician for regular checkups. These checkups will ensure the child’s medical condition isn’t changing.


If symptoms are present, treatment is designed to alleviate the symptoms and prevent any further spinal cord and brain damage. Physicians commonly recommend medicines for neck pain, headaches, and other symptoms. The doctor may also suggest minimizing any activity that worsens the symptoms.


However, those with more severe symptoms should be treated by a neurosurgeon to determine whether surgery is appropriate. The most common Chiari malformation surgical procedure is decompression. Decompression is designed to restore the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, relieve the pressure on the spinal cord, relieve the pressure on the brain, and prevent damage to the spine and brain. The procedure also includes measures to reduce spinal pressure in the area.

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