Whether you are new to Chiari or wondering why you are still experiencing debilitating symptoms after decompression, this is a good place to start.
All Chiari Malformations involve one or more problems with the cerebellum (Latin for "little brain"). Since they all involve the cerebellum, it is important to understand the function of the cerebellum.
The cerebellum is the largest structure of the hindbrain. It accounts for about 10% of the brain’s total volume, however it contains over 50% of all the brain’s neurons.
Multiple factors have been identified which can either cause or attribute to Chiari malformations. Although they too were once thought to be rare, Acquired Chiari malformations are now being diagnosed in increasing numbers. A brief overview of what each of these labels entail, together with a summary of the different types of CM’s, is provided below:
Congenital Chiari, is believed to be caused by a posterior cranial fossa hypoplasia (PCFH), which can also be caused by a connective tissue disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos. While the cerebellum continued to grow in utero, the posterior skull failed to grow proportionately. Problems resulting from this size discrepancy continue and eventually the overcrowding of the hindbrain squeezes the cerebral tonsils downward into the opening of the spinal canal (cranial constriction). While the herniation of the cerebellar tonsil(s) can take place during gestation or after birth, because the cause is 100% congenital, and the process most likely began in utero, it is usually considered a Congenital Chiari Malformation when the only pathology found is a small posterior cranial fossa. In one large study, they found those with a Chiari Malformation and no associated etiological/pathological co-factors, with only slightly over 52% having a small PCF. When other co-factors were present, the number of Chiarians found with a small PCF plummeted, and therefore it should be considered acquired until proven otherwise.
Acquired Chiari can have one or more possible pathological co-factors; any of which can result in the descent of the cerebellar tonsils. Many Chiarians often mistakenly conceptualize an Acquired Chiari Malformation as being brought on only by trauma; however, “acquired” is an antonym for “congenital,” so an Acquired Chiari Malformation in medical terms is one that a person was not born with. While this can include Acquired Chiari malformations resulting from trauma, it can also include Acquired Chiari malformations resulting from a variety of other medical conditions:
Heritable Disorders of Connective Tissue (HDCTs), most commonly Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes (EDS), make the tonsils more prone to prolapse below the foramen magnum.
Multiple conditions are known to create a pushing/pulling effect that can result in a tonsillar herniation. These conditions include: Intracranial Hypertension (IH), Atlantoaxial Instability and Craniocervical Instability (AAI/CCI), Tethered Cord Syndrome (TCS), and Intracranial Hypotension (cerebrospinal fluid leaks), Hydrocephalus, and a variety of cysts and brain tumors.
Special care should be taken when any of these co-morbid conditions exist in conjunction with a Chiari Malformation. Before the consideration of decompression surgery, a plan should be developed which addresses each possible comorbid condition before decompression. This can reduce the likelihood of complications and/or a failed decompression surgery.
Chiari Zero: The lower part of the cerebellum (the cerebral tonsils) are blocking the foramen magnum, but are not descended through. Because of the cerebellum’s position, it blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and all the effects of that blockage are comparable to Type 1... [Read More]
The most common type of Chiari Malformation, Type 1 is diagnosed when the cerebral tonsils descend below the foramen magnum... [Read More]