Chiari Malformation | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of type I Chiari malformation?

Children with type I Chiari malformations often have no signs or symptoms. In many cases, they are diagnosed after having a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan for another problem.

When symptoms do occur, they most often start in the teen years or early adulthood. These may include:

  • headaches, especially when coughing, sneezing, or straining
  • neck pain
  • balance problems
  • dizziness
  • trouble swallowing
  • numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • vision problems
  • breathing problems, especially during sleep
  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • a curve of the spine, called scoliosis

What are the symptoms of type II Chiari malformation?

Children with type II Chiari malformations are more likely to have symptoms. These may include:

  • a build-up of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus)
  • a weak cry
  • trouble swallowing 
  • breathing problems
  • problems with nerve function in the throat and tongue

What are the causes of Chiari malformation?

  • Type I - This type occurs if the skull is too small or if the brain grows more quickly than the skull, causing the bottom of the brain to push into the spinal canal.
  • Type II - Almost all children with a type II malformation have a form of spina bifida called myelomeningocele, when the backbone and spinal canal don’t close before birth.