Chiari malformation treatment

Older African American woman recovering from Chiari Malformation syndrome.

Chiari malformation is a complex condition that requires advanced treatment you’ll find at The Christ Hospital Health Network. Our team of experienced neurosurgeons has expertise in Chiari malformation and other brain and spinal cord conditions. 

Types of treatment for Chiari malformation

The type of treatment you receive depends on your general health, whether or not there are symptoms, and the severity of the condition. 

Treatments include:

  • Observation—If you have a diagnosis of Chiari malformation, but no symptoms, your doctor may choose to watch your health closely. This may include frequent physical exams and MRI tests. 

  • Special magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We may closely monitor you using a special MRI procedure that detects blocks in the flow of spinal fluid. At some point, you may need surgery based on the MRI results or if your symptoms worsen.

  • Sleep study. If you have sleep apnea, we may recommend a sleep study to monitor your sleep patterns. A sleep study can also help determine additional treatment. 

  • Pain medications. If you have symptoms, we may prescribe medicines to ease pain or we may advise decompression surgery to relieve pressure on the brain and restore the flow of spinal fluid.

  • Surgery. If you have severe symptoms, surgery for Chiari malformation is the only treatment that can relieve them or stop further damage to your central nervous system. The surgery is called a suboccipital craniectomy and duraplasty, which removes a small portion at the base of the skull and opens up the compressed fluid sac surrounding the base of the brain. Often the surgery is combined with a C1 laminectomy, which removes a small portion of bone at the top of the spine. The severity of your Chiari Malformation determines if this portion of the procedure is needed. Typically the surgery takes less than two hours and many patients need only two to three days in the hospital to recover postoperatively.

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