Chiari Malformation Life Expectancy

Chiari malformation is a disorder that affects both the spinal cord and brain. In this neurological disorder the cerebellar tonsils (the lower area of the brain) is pushed down by the skull, meaning that it rests on the top of the spinal column itself.

The most common type of this this malformation is known as Chiari 1 malformation. This occurs when the skull is not able enough to totally contain the cerebellum, either because it is too small or because it is misshapen.

When considering the life expectancy of a person suffering from a Chiari malformation, it is necessary to appreciate that information on this subject is fairly limited. Life expectancy will vary greatly from individual to individual, depending on how serious their particular malformation is.

Associated Risks

Chiari can pose a number of dangers to sufferers. Because it pushes the cerebellum tonsils down, the base of the brain is subjected to a higher than usual pressure, which can trigger certain neurological problems. In addition, in some cases the condition causes the passage of cerebrospinal fluid to be blocked. This is a significant problem, as this protective fluid contain all of the nutrients required to feed the brain, and also removes waste products.

The Hereditary Debate

While experts continue to look for definite proof that Chiari is a hereditary condition, there is some quite significant anecdotal evidence that it can run in families. It is possible that children born with the condition inherited the faulty gene. That being said, the debate continues and the chance of passing Chiari to an unborn child is thought to be fairly minimal.

Life Expectancy

At the present time, statistics pertaining to the life expectancy of patients suffering from Chiari malformation is somewhat limited. Research aimed at improving diagnosis are ongoing. A great boost to diagnosis was the introduction of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in the 1980s. Type 1 Chiari is the mildest presentation of the condition, and many suffers live a normal life. When it comes to considering the life expectancy of patients, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration:

Looking at the individual

Chiari malformation is a condition that impacts on each suffer differently. While one patient may suffer severe symptoms including as respiratory distress, problems with balance, dizziness or depression that, left untreated, could impact on their life expectancy, others may be almost symptom-free and live a relatively normal day to day life.

Treatment Program

Another feature that will inevitably influence the potential lifespan of a patient suffering from Chiari 1 malformation sufferer is their treatment plan. Milder cases in which the main presentation is a headache can sometimes be simply treated with pain relieving medications. In other cases more invasive medical intervention may be required, the most common of which is surgery aimed at lessening the pressure on the brain. Such surgery may involve the removal of a section of skull, inserting a catheter into the skull via a drilled hole, or easing the build-up of pressure by releasing fluids.


Some patients are able to live a normal life following surgery. However, complications, though rare, can lead to the development of further medical issues. Occasionally, the patient may require further surgery if the problem reoccurs. Physical therapy and cranial osteopathy may be recommended after surgery to help boost and maintain quality of life.

Early Diagnosis

The symptoms associated with Chiari Malformation do not necessarily present early in life. Patients who live for years unaware that they have the condition may end up with significant nerve damage caused by the pressure on their spinal cord. Such damage may prove irreversible despite surgical treatment. Therefore, the earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better chance the patient has of a normal life span.