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The cerebellum is important for balance, and it is normally located directly above where the spinal cord exits at the back of the skull. The spinal cord exits the brain through the foramen magnus, the opening at the bottom of the skull. When the cerebellum shifts downward through this opening, it is called a Chiari malformation. Chiari malformations can cause a wide variety of symptoms, with various types and causes. DOCS Health offers advanced treatments for patients with a Chiari malformation at our medical center in Los Angeles.

Chiari malformations, or CM, can be caused by a birth defect in the skull, usually due to a smaller or misshapen skull. This is considered primary or congenital CM. This spinal condition can also occur due to changes in the spinal fluid from infection, injury or disease, allowing the cerebellum to shift down through the opening of the skull. Patients may not have any symptoms with CM, but some of the possible symptoms include:

  • Dizziness and loss of balance
  • Hearing problems or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Headaches, especially when coughing or sneezing
  • Difficulty eating, swallowing or speaking
  • Scoliosis
  • Excessive vomiting, drooling or gagging
  • Difficulty with hand motor skills

Patients with certain types of congenital CM may exhibit symptoms in childhood, while others may not show signs until adulthood. It is possible to have CM and have no symptoms.

Types of Chiari Malformations

There are four main types of CM. These types are classified by the extent of the deformity and how much of the brain extends into the spinal cord.

  • Type I – this is the most common, usually congenital, when the cerebellum passes through the foramen magnus into the spinal cord.
  • Type II – with Type II, the cerebellum and some of the brain stem may push through the foramen magnus. This is often accompanied by a congenital defect of the spinal column. This can cause paralysis and serious complications in infancy or childhood, requiring surgery to correct.
  • Type III – this is the severest form of CM, where larger parts of the brain press through the foramen magnus. This is rare, but it can be life-threatening to infants and children with this condition.
  • Type IV – this is a very rare form of CM where the cerebellum does not pass through the foramen magnus but is undeveloped.

Chiari malformation can range from non-symptomatic to life-threatening. Treatment depends on the type, symptoms and severity. Surgery is needed to reposition the cerebellum in severe forms of CM.

If you or your child have symptoms of CM, contact our neuro-spine surgeon specialists at DOCS Health. Call our medical center in Beverly Hills to schedule your consultation.