What You Need to Know If Someone in Your Family Has Been Diagnosed With Chiari Malformation

Michelle Hopkins

Chiari malformation is a serious medical condition that can run in families, which leads doctors to recommend that all family members get tested when someone in the family gets a diagnosis. Here's what you need to know if someone in your family has been newly diagnosed with Chiari malformation.

What is Chiari Malformation

A Chiari malformation is an abnormality in the cerebellum, which is the lower part of the brain. The abnormality causes the cerebellar tonsils to descend into the spinal cord opening. This herniation of the tonsils can push onto the brain stem and/or block the cerebral spinal fluid from flowing through the spinal cord and around the brain.

This condition causes intense pressure headaches, but it can also cause several symptoms throughout the body, depending on the pressure and damage the herniation causes to the brain stem and nerves in the spinal cord. The size of the herniation isn't as important as the flow of the cerebral spinal fluid (whether reduced or blocked) and if there is pressure on the brain stem.

Compression of the brain stem can cause a wide range of problems, such as tachycardia and gastroparesis. If the cerebral spinal fluid is blocked, it can cause syringomyelia. This is one of many comorbid conditions that are related to Chiari. The blockage causes fluid-filled pockets to form in the spinal cavity, which can lead to irreversible nerve damage.

There is no cure for this condition, but it can be treated by decompression brain surgery. However, surgery should only be considered if the symptoms become severe due to the difficulty of the surgery. In some cases, shunts are placed to drain fluid buildup in the head and/or spinal cord.

Why Your Family Should Be Tested

It is important to understand, however, that many people are not diagnosed with this condition until later in life when symptoms lead them to medical testing or when they've suffered a head trauma and the Chiari malformation is an incidental finding.

Due to the possibility of the malformation putting pressure on the brain stem and disrupting the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, people with this condition should avoid extreme sports, rollercoasters, and other things that can put force on their neck. Also, spinal taps and chiropractic manipulation of the neck needs to be done very carefully as to avoid further herniation of the tonsils into the spinal cord.

Due to these reasons and the seriousness of Chiari malformation, it is important to have each of your immediate family members tested for Chiari when one person in your family is diagnosed with the condition. To diagnose Chiari, each of your family members will need an MRI of the head and neck.

To learn more about this condition or get your family tested, visit a local family medical practices, such as Premier Health LLC.