Chiari Malformation & Headache

One of the uncommon causes of headache is called Chiari malformation. Also referred to as Arnold-Chiari, it’s a condition where brain tissue protrudes into the spinal canal. It happens when part of the skull is extra small or misshapen and presses on the brain, forcing it downward.

As with much of the scary stuff I write about, very few people’s headaches are caused by this malformation. So don’t panic! Chiari is detected by an MRI and headache is only one of the many possible symptoms.

Anna Roberts, a medical student in the UK, was recently diagnosed with and had surgery to correct her Chiari malformation. She describes having brain surgery while a medical student — a situation where she has enough information to be scared, but not enough to know what’s really happening.

Mayo Clinic has an easy-to-read explanation of Chiari, it’s symptoms and treatments. You can also learn more from NIH‘s Chiari fact sheet.

[via Kevin MD, image from Mayo Clinic]


8 Responses to “Chiari Malformation & Headache”

  1. Angel Says:

    An online friend and I developed our headaches about the same time. Her daughter had surgery for Chiari, and bingo–that’s what she had as well.

    But yeah, our headaches were totally different, and I took a peek at my MRI and it didn’t look anything like a Chiari patient.

    Did the surgery help her?


  2. nancy Says:

    I had the surgeory in October 2002. It was one of the best things I could have done. I was so sick with headaches that it took over my life, now I am alot better.

    That’s terrific news! Thanks for sharing your great story.


  3. Beth Says:

    Please help! I am suffering with the god-awful headaches, other then blowing my head off, what can I do to get some relief? I don’t have any insurance and the dr wants cash up front for office visits which are 350.00. Any advice that will give me any help will be appreciated.

  4. Beth Says:

    If anyone knows how I can get some relief from the headacges please email me at I have taken every kind of over the counter pain reliever and use ice packs on my head, neck,temple.eye socket, etc… and nothing really helps. Any advice or suggestions will be deeply appreciated. I’ve been doing alot of reading on Chiari and to be honest, I’m scared to death. Please, somebody help me. I dont have insurance of any kind. Also, I’m wondering if this Chiari qualifies me for disability? I live in Michigan, does anyone know where I can go for medical help? It hurts so bad now that I’d like to die just so the pain will stop.

  5. Kerrie Says:


    I’ve responded to your questions in an e-mail. I think I’ll be able to give you some good suggestions for coping with your headaches.

    It may ease your mind to know that more than 95% of headaches aren’t caused by a life-threatening or dramatic problem — like an aneurysm, brain tumor or even Chiari. I know that it is still scary, but hope you can take some comfort in this statistic.

    Hang in there. We’ll be able to figure something out.


    (To everyone else who is reading this, I will post the resources that I find so you may benefit from them, too.)

  6. Tom Reynolds Says:

    My 17 year old daughter was diagnosed with chiari a few years ago, when her headaches get real bad she just goes to bed. No pain meds seem to help, neurotin, topimax, otc’s.
    AT WHAT POINT DO DOCTORS THINK SURGERY SHOULD BE DONE? She has mri’s to see if there has been any change’s. Something about cerebral tonsils i think. Thanks.

  7. Tharilyn Says:

    I suffer with headaches, migraines and the rest of the fun fun fun … and until I was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation 1, I was scared. What was causing them? What was wrong with me? I understand how scary this disorder sounds but, honestly, I am so glad that I now know why my headaches come so frequently. At least now when a doctor tells me its all in my head I can laugh and say, “well yes Dr.Smartypants, it is all in my head!” What is most distressing to me is the stigma and dismissal that many of us get from the medical community. It happens more and more often that as we complain of pain, headaches or whatever, we are held up for intense scrutiny. The medical community , moreover society as a whole is so focused on addiction and routing those people searching for narcotics fraudulently that those of us with viable chronic pain conditions (diagnosed and undiagnosed) are lost in the shuffle… at least that has been my experience.
    For the record I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, Chiari’s (15mm herniation), migraines and BPD … lucky me!!! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…. LOL!
    all my best,

  8. Dianna Says:

    My daughter had Chiari decompression surgery in December 2007 and has now developed daily headaches of excruiating pain. She is also severly sensitive to lights. This developed after surgery. Any suggestions for relief. Pain meds are not helping.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: