Most Chiarians go to see a surgeon with an expectation of them being knowledgeable in their field. However, while they might be a neurosurgeon, their knowledge of Chiari and its comorbid/pathological conditions might not rank high in their practice. Make the most of your initial appointment by interviewing them and what they really know about Chiari Malformations. Be cautious of inflated success rates. Chiari decompression in general offers a just over a 50% success rate (which means it has a nearly 50% failure rate). Surgeons that claim a 100% (or near 100% success rate) are usually not basing their success on how their patients feel afterward, it is based on if they were successful with the aspects of the surgery:
Removal of the occipital bone ✓
Opening the dura and adding the patch/graft ✓
Cauterization/resection of cerebellar tonsils ✓
WE DESERVE BETTER THAN THAT!
HERE IS A LIST OF CHIARI QUESTIONS WE RECOMMEND ASKING AT YOUR FIRST NEUROSURGERY APPOINTMENT:
- How do you define a Chiari Malformation?
- What do you believe causes a Chiari malformation?
- Are all Chiari malformations from a small posterior fossa?
- Do I have a small posterior fossa? If yes, how big is it? If size is unknown, was my posterior fossa measured? If not, why not? How did you come to the conclusion that I have a small posterior fossa?
- How common do you believe Acquired Chiari malformations to be?
- Do you always recommend decompression surgery for all of your patients with herniated cerebellar tonsils? Why/why not?
- In an average month, how many Chiari decompressions do you perform? How many tethered cord releases? How many craniocervical fusions? What percentage of your practice is spent treating patients with these connective tissue related conditions?
- Looking at my brain scan, is any part of my “brainstem” herniated (below the posterior fossa)? If so, does that make me a Chiari 1.5?
Intracranial Hypotension (low pressure) Questions:
*Article to help you understand CSF Leaks & Intracranial Hypotension prior to your appointment.
If you have SYMPTOMS OF LOW INTRACRANIAL PRESSURE and/or suspect a cerebrospinal fluid leak, we recommend asking the following questions:
- Looking at my brain scan, do you see any Subdural fluid collections?
- Looking at my brain scan, do you see an Enhancement of pachymeninges?
- Looking at my brain scan, do you see an Engorgement of my venous structures? Should we do an MRV to make sure?
- Looking at my brain scan, does my Pituitary appear to be enlarged?
- Looking at my brain scan, does my brain appear to be Sagging?
- Looking at my corpus callosum:
- Does there appear to be a depression?
- Is there an inferior pointing of the splenium?
If he/she answers affirmatively to any of the above S.E.E.P.S. questions, ask:
- What should be done to find/repair a potential leak?
- Are you aware that it is common for CSF Leaks to not show up on MRI?
- Are you willing to do a CT Myelogram and/or a digital subtraction myelogram, if I develop symptoms of a leak and none can be found on MRI?
- Are you aware that it can often take multiple epidural blood patches to try and seal a leak, and sometimes when a blood patch fails to work, a surgical dural repair might be necessary?
Intracranial Hypertension (high pressure) Questions:
*Article to help you understand Intracranial Hypertension prior to your appointment.
If you have SYMPTOMS OF HIGH INTRACRANIAL PRESSURE, we recommend asking the following questions:
- Looking at my brain scan, do I have cerebrospinal fluid in my sella turcica (Empty Sella Syndrome)?
- Looking at my brain scan, do you see any evidence of my optic nerves are swollen (papilledema)?
- If so, should I be referred to a neuro-ophthalmologist?
- Looking at my brain scan, do my lateral ventricles appear small or flattened?
- If so, do I need to have my pressures checked?
- What are the symptoms of a CSF Leak, should one develop?
- Should a leak be found, are you aware that it can often take multiple epidural blood patches to try and seal a leak?
- Looking at my brain/cervical scan, does my brainstem appear to be elongated?
- Looking at my cervical scan, does my spinal cord appear to be stretched?
- Looking at my lumbar scan, does my conus reach my mid/low L2?
- Looking at my thoracic and lumbar scan, does my spinal cord appear to be pulling to the back, or one particular side?
- If so, should we do a prone MRI to see if it has actually adhered to that side?
- Looking at my lumbar scan, do I appear to have fatty tissue inside the epidermis?
- If the answer to any of these questions is affirmative, do you suspect that I have a tethered spinal cord?
- If so, should we plan for a Tethered Cord Release before or soon after decompression surgery, so the likelihood of a failed decompression is reduced?
- If I have urological issues, can I get a referral for urodynamic testing to rule out any other potential causes of my urological issues?
Craniocervical Instability (CCI) & Atlantoaxial Instability (AAI):
*Article to help you understand CCI & AAI prior to your appointment.
If you have SYMPTOMS OF CRANIOCERVICAL INSTABILITY or SYMPTOMS OF ATLANTOAXIAL INSTABILITY, we recommend asking the following questions:
- Looking at my brain/cervical scans, what are the measurements of my clivoaxial angle and Grabb-Oakes?
- Do these measurements meet the diagnostic criteria for Craniocervical Instability?
- Looking at my flexion and extension imaging, how many millimeters of translation are there between flexion and extension?
- Does Chamberlain’s Line cross my odontoid? If so, does it cross at a level that would indicate Basilar Invagination?
- Looking at my rotational imaging, what is the percentage of uncovering of the right and left articular facets on rotation?
- Do the percentages from my rotational imaging meet the diagnosis criteria for Atlantoaxial Instability?
IF A DIAGNOSIS CRITERIA IS MET IN ANY OF THE ABOVE, WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU WAIT ON DECOMPRESSION AND PURSUE THE TREATMENT OF SAID CONDITION(S) AND THAT OF EHLERS-DANLOS SYNDROME, AS EACH OF THESE CONDITIONS CAN BE PATHOLOGICAL TO AN ACQUIRED CHIARI AND EACH IS A STRONG INDICATOR THAT A CONNECTIVE TISSUE PROBLEM EXISTS.
*The questions in this article will periodically change as we are able to expand our recommended questions.
*Original version released September 2018, revised 2023.