Chiari malformation


A congenital neurological condition that can cause neurological problems including balance.

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Tests and scans 548556991.jpg

What is a chiari malformation?

Chiari malformation is a condition where brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. This happens when there is a mismatch between the size of brain tissue and the brain cavity, so the tissue is pushed downwards into the spinal canal. This can put pressure on the brainstem and spinal cord, sometimes resulting in the formation of a cyst within the spine.

Need to know

Many people with a Chiari malformation have no signs or symptoms so the condition often goes unnoticed. However, symptoms can occur depending on type and severity of the Chiari malformation:

Chiari I: Usually becomes apparent in late childhood/early adulthood. Symptoms can include coughing, headaches and balance problems.If associated with a spinal cyst (syringomyelia), it can also cause poor hand coordination, difficulty walking and difficulty swallowing (syringobulbia).

Chiari II: Always related to an open spina bifida. Symptoms can include changes in breathing, swallowing problems, quick downward eye movements and arm weakness.

As Chiari malformations have few symptoms, they are often discovered during physical examinations. They may show up on the following tests:

  • MRI scans to display brain tissue clearly
  • X-rays may reveal bone abnormalities associated with Chiari malformation
  • CT scans can help display bone abnormalities associated with Chiari malformation
If the Chiairi malformation is causing you headaches and pressing on your spinal cord, your consultant may recommend medication or decompression surgery.

Your surgeon will make a cut at the back of your head and then remove a piece of bone removed from the base of your skull. Normally the arch of the first vertebra (C1) is also removed. The bony decompression between the occiput and the C1 vertebra allows the tough outer covering of the brain and spine (dura) to be opened, creating more space for the abnormally-located brain tissue.

Our Chiari malformation locations

SPECIALIST UNIT  London Neurosurgery Partnership

SPECIALIST UNIT London Neurosurgery Partnership

78 Harley Street W1G 7HJ London
The Harley Street Clinic

The Harley Street Clinic

35 Weymouth Street W1G 8BJ London
The Portland Hospital

The Portland Hospital

205-209 Great Portland Street W1W 5AH London
The Lister Hospital

The Lister Hospital

Chelsea Bridge Road, SW1W 8RH London
The Shard Outpatients

The Shard Outpatients

The Shard, 32 St Thomas Street SE1 9BS London
London Bridge Hospital

London Bridge Hospital

27 Tooley Street SE1 2PR London

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.