Chiari Malformation | Diagnosis and Treatment

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How is Chiari malformation diagnosed?

The doctor will examine your child and ask about his or her symptoms and medical history. 

What tests will my child need?

To help diagnose Chiari malformation, your child’s doctor may also use one or more of the following tests:

What are the treatment options for Chiari malformation?

Many children with type I Chiari malformation do not need treatment. If your child has no symptoms, your doctor will likely recommend watching the condition with exams and MRIs.

If your child has symptoms, he or she will likely need surgery to relieve pressure on the brain and spinal cord and to restore the normal flow of spinal fluid in the area.

What type of surgery is used to treat Chiari malformation?

The type of surgery your child’s doctor recommends will depend on the type of Chiari malformation your child has and his or her age and symptoms.

The most common surgery for Chiari malformation is posterior fossa decompression. During this surgery, the surgeon removes a bit of bone from the lowest part of your child's skull. This helps relieve pressure and reduces symptoms. The surgeon may also use an electrical current to shrink some of the tissue.

Children with type II Chiari malformation may need surgery to close the opening in the back of the skull and to move the position of the spinal cord.

If your child has other conditions related to the Chiari malformation, such as hydrocephalus (fluid in the brain), he or she may need a different type of surgery or a shunt (a thin tube) to drain extra fluid out of the brain. 

Will the surgery work?

In most cases, the surgery relieves symptoms completely or reduces symptoms. In some cases, children with Chiari malformation may need more than one surgery.

Expert care for Chiari malformation

The Boston Children's Hospital Department of Neurosurgery has extensive experience caring for children with Chiari malformation.

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