Chiari Malformation is an often painful malformation of the brain. This condition occurs when the cerebellum (the lower part of the brain) enlarges and pushes downwards into the spinal column. Though not usually life threatening, a Chiari Malformation can cause symptoms that can impact on a patient's life expectancy. These symptoms, and the way in which they affect life expectancy, are detailed below.
Before analysis the impact of a Chiari Malformation on life expectancy, it is important to note that there are four different types of Chiari Malformation with some of them being more severe than others. Type I Chiari Malformations (or 'Chiari I Malformations') are the most common and the least serious. They can be symptomless (and many people can go through life without realising that they have a Type I Chiari Malformation) or they can cause unpleasant but not necessarily life threatening symptoms such as headaches and dizziness, visual and hearing disturbances and associated nausea and insomnia. The most serious Chiari Malformations are Type III and IV these tend to appear in childhood. Types III and IV Chiari Malformations can cause very severe neurological symptoms such as loss of motor control, inability to swallow food, severe problems with vision, hearing and balance, seizures and coma. All types of Chiari Malformation can be treated with surgery. Various types of surgery are available, including decompression surgery to reduce buildups of fluid around the top of the spinal cord and 'untethering' surgery to release the spinal cord in part from the cerebellum.
With appropriate surgery and therapy and medication to manage any symptoms, patients with mild (Type I) Chiari Malformation will usually enjoy a normal life expectancy. Without treatment, life expectancy will be limited as symptoms worsen and build up. However, children who are born with more severe types of this malformation very often do not live into adulthood. Thankfully, the more severe types of Chiari Malformation are much rarer than Type I Chiari Malformations. Type II Chiari Malformations are often the same condition as Type II Spina Bifida: here we see an example of two distinct medical conditions completely overlapping at one point in a kind of Venn diagram.
Some types of Chiari Malformation are thought to be hereditary, though research is still being conducted in to this issue to confirm whether or not this is the case. Some studies have suggested that Chiari Malformation is a result of a foetus not receiving enough vitamins and minerals whilst they are in the womb. As such, it is crucial to eat a nutritious and balanced diet during pregnancy to avoid increasing the risk of your child developing or being born with Chiari Malformation. A good diet during pregnancy will also help to protect a foetus against numerous other diseases and disorders.