Have Headaches & Other Symptoms? You May Have Undiagnosed Chiari 1 Malformation

20 July 2015
 Categories: , Articles


If you or a loved one has frequent headaches in the back of the head, the pain may be caused by a condition called Chiari 1 malformation.  This is a medical condition that can become serious but often goes undiagnosed. This condition can lead to serious health complications or cause sudden death, so it's important to get a proper diagnosis. Here's what you need to know.

What is Chiari 1 malformation & what are the main symptoms

A Chiari 1 malformation is a medical condition which causes the base of the brain to be larger than it should be. This makes the malformation extend into the opening for the spinal column at the base of the skull, which is where your spinal fluid flows. This extension of the malformation into the opening can cause the spinal fluid to be blocked, which can lead to paralysis and problems with any or all major organs.

Most people with this medical condition complain of headaches in the back of the head, with pressure radiating upwards. The headaches may worsen when you are bending over, laughing or coughing. When attempting to get help from a physician, the patients may be told they are simply under too much stress.

Other symptoms you may not realize are related, but your physician should

It's important for your physician to know about other seemingly-unrelated symptoms of Chiari 1 malformation that you may be experiencing, such as tingling in fingers and toes, shortness of breath, blurred vision, excessive slobber, slurring of words, ringing in ears, clumsiness, and fatigue.

Of course, from your perspective, it's highly likely that you don't think there's a connection between your headaches and any other symptoms you may have. Therefore, you may not think to tell your physician about the other symptoms. However, it's his or her job to ask you. If not, then he or she may have breached their duty of care to you.

 How it's diagnosed & treated

The only way to properly diagnose Chiari 1 malformation is through a CT scan. After the malformation is noticed on a CT scan, your physician should refer you to a neurosurgeon who should order a cine MRI. The flow of the cerebral spinal fluid around the malformation can be watched on a cine MRI, which is basically a movie image instead of a still image.

It is recommended that people with this condition have repeated CTs and cine MRIs on a continuing basis to keep tabs on their condition. The frequency is recommended on a case-by-case basis.

Chiari 1 malformation is treated with brain surgery when the condition compromises the patient's life. During the surgery, a neurosurgeon removes a portion of the skull so the cerebral spinal fluid is able to flow. This is called a decompression surgery.

What to do if your condition has been undiagnosed

If your physician has not asked you about the symptoms that may seem unrelated, has brushed off your headaches as due to stress, or has not ordered the necessary imaging scans to check for Chiari 1 malformation, you may have gone undiagnosed for much longer than necessary. If your condition suddenly worsens or leads to sudden death, your family will likely want to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer.

You may have a case of medical negligence if you can prove the following three things:

  1. there was a duty of care
  2. that duty was breached
  3. the breach caused damages

All three of those things need to be met in order for your case to be considered medical negligence. If you feel you have been undiagnosed with Chiari 1 malformation, get a second opinion from another physician, then speak with a medical malpractice attorney from a firm like McLaughlin & Lauricella, P.C.