The Chiari Malformation abnormality was first described in the late 1890’s. The most common type of Chiari Malformation to affect adults is Type I. Surgery was first performed for this condition in 1938. (Holly, 2019)

With increasing ease of access to imaging Chiari malformations are more commonly diagnosed by chance in people who are not symptomatic from this condition. It is thought that about 1% of the population could have a Chiari malformation. (Yarbrough & Greenberg, 2015)

A Chiari malformation is defined by specific radiological features which your specialist will be able to discuss with you when you see your MRI results.

Not all Chiari malformations are symptomatic, but if they are symptomatic these are some of the common symptoms: (Batzdorf, 2015) (Holly, 2019)

  • Headaches – most common – (affecting at least 80% of patients)
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Hoarseness
  • Visual symptoms
  • Balance problems
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Weakness of arms or legs
  • Change of sensation involving arms or legs
  • Fatigue
  • Memory impairment

Headaches are common and there can be many different causes for headaches. There are different kinds of headaches. The headaches associated with Chiari malformations are called tussive headaches, or strain headaches.

They typically are severe and short lived. They are focussed at the back of the head, near the base of your skull. They are reproduced by specific actions such as coughing or straining.

Please remember that most patients with Chiari malformations these days are diagnosed by chance and therefore will not require surgery. This is a rare condition and it is best to discuss your results with a specialist.


Batzdorf, U. (2015). Clinical Presentation and Alternative Diagnoses in the Adult Population. Neurosurgery Clinics of North America, 515 – 517.

Holly, L. T. (2019). Chiari malformation and syringomyelia. Journal of Neurosurgery Spine, 619 – 628.

Yarbrough , C. K., & Greenberg, J. K. (2015). Clinical Outcome Measures in Chiari I Malformations. Neurosurgery Clinics of North America, 533 – 541.