HealthONE - October 02, 2020

Chiari malformation is named for professor Hans Chiari, a German pathologist who first described abnormalities of the brain at the junction of the skull with the spine in the 1890s. There are several types of Chiari malformations, but type I is the most common. It is estimated that about one in 1,000 people may have Chiari malformation, but many people have no symptoms.

"Colorado Chiari Center specializes in treating patients with Chiari I malformation. We approach each patient with individualized care and a holistic approach. We utilize a thorough diagnostic approach, preoperative health optimization, and the latest surgical techniques to maximize the quality of life of our patients. It is personally rewarding to embark on this journey with patients and to witness their return to the lives they wish to lead," says neurosurgeon James Stephen, MD.

What is a chiari malformation?

Chiari I malformation (kee-AH-ree mal-for-MAY-shun) is a condition where there is compression of the brain at the bottom of the skull. The Chiari I malformation is present at birth, but symptoms often develop later in life. The "malformation" is an abnormal shape and size of the skull, which results in squeezing of part of the brain into the spinal canal. This squeezing and brain compression can block spinal fluid flow and lead to buildup of pressure and cause neurological symptoms.

What are common signs and symptoms?

Chiari I symptoms include:

  • headache (usually at the base of the skull),
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • dizziness
  • ringing in the ears
  • difficulty swallowing
  • "brain fog" — the feeling of being foggy or in a cloud

What should I do if I have signs and/or symptoms?

Start with your primary care provider. They will ask about your health history and perform an examination. You may also be referred to a specialist. If you are then diagnosed with a Chiari I malformation, you may be referred to the Colorado Chiari Institute for a thorough evaluation. Find a primary care provider at The Medical Center of Aurora.

How is chiari malformation diagnosed?

Chiari I malformation is diagnosed by radiographic imaging studies of the brain, usually MRI or CT scan. Often the imaging studies are performed to look for a cause of patient’s neurological symptoms, but not specifically to look for a Chiari malformation. Sometimes the diagnosis is made incidentally, meaning that the images were obtained for an unrelated reason, such as trauma, research, or other medical condition. Patients with Chiari malformation symptoms are usually referred for specialty evaluation by a neurosurgeon. Your neurosurgeon may also order further imaging studies.

What happens if I am diagnosed with chiari malformation?

Patients who are diagnosed with Chiari incidentally, or who are asymptomatic, are followed over time as they may develop symptoms years or decades later.

If surgery is recommended, your surgeon's office will guide you through the entire process. The experts at The Medical Center of Aurora and the Colorado Chiari Institute, are dedicated to helping you step by step to maximize the best possible surgical outcome.

How long does it take to recover from surgery?

While recovery time is different for every patient, it takes about five to six months to fully heal from a Chairi malformation surgery. However, many patients will notice significant improvements in their symptoms within the first month.

For more information about the Colorado Chiari Institute visit our website or call (303) 695-2663.