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Mini Guide To Chiari-1 Malformation

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Whether it came from your primary care physician after complaints of headaches or an emergency room physician after a neck injury in a car accident, your head is likely spinning with the news of a Chiari-1 malformation diagnosis. Chiari-1 malformation can be a bit difficult to understand, especially if you either just started having symptoms or you have no symptoms at all. Here are the answers to a few questions you may have. 

What is it?

Chiari-1 malformation is the herniation of the cerebral tonsils, which are finger-like protrusions that come out of your cerebellum, which is the base of your brain. When these protrusions are longer than they should be, there is nowhere for them to go but down toward and/or through the foramen magnum, which is the opening for the spinal cord.

What can it cause? 

This creates several problems. It can block the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, which can lead to syringomyelia and hydrocephalus. Syringomyelia occurs when pockets of cerebral spinal fluid form inside the spinal cord. Hydrocephalus occurs when the cerebral spinal fluid gets trapped in and around the brain. Chiari malformation can also put too much pressure on the brain stem, which can disrupt the autonomic systems that control everything your body does without thinking, such as your breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and bladder and bowel control. 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include headaches with pressure that starts in the back of the head and radiates towards the forehead, tingling and/or numbness in the face and/or extremities, nausea, gag reflex, difficulty swallowing, sleep apnea, vision changes, the inability to find the correct words when speaking, crumpling to the floor in drop attacks, rapid heart beat, paralysis, a choking sensation around the throat, neck pain, and many other seemingly unrelated symptoms. It is crucial to understand that Chiari-1 malformation is a progressive condition. Always watch for symptoms. 

Is there treatment available? 

Treatment typically consists of lifestyle changes, symptom management, and/or decompression surgery when symptoms become life-altering or life-threatening. Decompression surgery involves removing a small walnut-sized portion of the skull in the back of the head-neck junction where the malformation is located to provide more room for the malformation. Sometimes, the dura (lining of the brain) is cut open and the herniation is removed or cauterized. In some surgeries, the neurosurgeon also removes the middle portion of the top vertebrae or two to gain access to the herniation, if necessary. 

To learn more, contact a doctor at a medical facility like Allegheny Brain And Spine Surgeons.