Chiari malformation is a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal – simply put, the brain is too big for the head. It occurs when part of a child’s skull is abnormally small or misshapen, pressing on the brain and forcing it downward. Current estimates are that up to 1% of children have this malformation.

Doctors categorize Chiari malformation into several types depending on the anatomy of the brain tissue displaced into the spinal canal and whether developmental abnormalities of the brain or spine are present.

Children with Chiari malformation can experience symptoms related to irritation of the covering of the brain, direct compression of brain structures, or dilation of the spinal cord due to an abnormal flow of spinal fluid (syringomyelia). 

Would you like to schedule an appointment with Neurosurgery?

What are the signs and symptoms of Chiari Malformation?

Symptoms of Chiari Malformation may include the following:

  • Headaches, often with coughing, sneezing or straining
  • Neck pain
  • Unsteady gait (problems with balance)
  • Poor hand coordination (fine motor skills)
  • Numbness and tingling of the hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing, sometimes accompanied by gagging, choking and vomiting
  • Speech problems, such as hoarseness

Less often, children with Chiari malformation may experience:

  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Weakness
  • Slow heart rhythm
  • Curvature of the spine (scoliosis) related to spinal cord impairment
  • Abnormal breathing, such as central sleep apnea (in which a child stops breathing during sleep)

How is Chiari Malformation treated?

Depending on the type, severity and associated symptoms – can include regular monitoring, medications and surgery. In some cases, no treatment is needed.

Connecticut Children’s pediatric neurosurgery team are expert in diagnosing and treating Chiari malformation. We’ll review the options with you and help you select the best treatment for your child.