Chiari malformation diagnosis

Older African American woman recovering from Chiari Malformation syndrome.

​Chiari malformation is a serious condition that should be diagnosed and treated by an experienced neurosurgery team. The symptoms of Chiari Malformation can be similar to many other conditions. The diagnosis of Chiari malformation is usually involves a process of ruling out other possible conditions.  

In a person with no symptoms, Chiari malformation may be found during imaging tests for other health reasons. Neurosurgeons at The Christ Hospital Health Network will review your symptoms and check your memory, balance, touch, reflexes, sensation and motor skills. 

Diagnostic imaging procedures 

Chiari malformations can sometimes be difficult to diagnose since the symptoms can be vague. Tests may include:

  • Brainstem auditory evoked potential (BAER)—an electrical test that determines if the connection between the brain and hearing function is working properly.

  • Computed tomography (CT) imaging scan—uses X-rays and a computer to create multiple detailed or three-dimensional images the skull bones and brain to identify hydrocephalus and bone abnormalities associated with Chiari malformation. 

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—is the imaging procedure most often used to diagnose a Chiari malformation. MRI involves a magnet, radio frequencies and a computer. It produces detailed pictures of the brain, nerves and skull. In some cases, a special dye is injected into a vein so organs are more clearly visible.

  • Cine MRI—a special type of MRI where the flow of cerebrospinal fluid is imaged over time revealing areas of potential obstruction seen in Chiari malformations.

  • Myelogram—uses a contrast dye and X-rays or computed tomography (CT) to see problems in the spinal canal.

  • Somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP)—shows the electrical signals of sensation going from the body to the brain.

  • X-ray—uses radiation beams to make images of the skull bones. Although an X-ray of the head and neck cannot reveal Chiari malformation, it can identify bone abnormalities often associated with CM.

Your neurosurgery team will review the imaging tests and make a diagnosis. They will discuss the diagnosis with you and develop a treatment plan that best suits the your needs.

Get more information about Chiari malformation care at The Christ Hospital Health Network.