Arnold-Chiari malformation is a genetic disorder in which the brain is profoundly impacted, especially in the lower regions including the brain stem. While the gene responsible for this condition has not been determined, it is believed to be a complication that is predominant in women. For individuals who suffer from Arnold-Chiari malformation, the prognosis is good when symptoms are recognized early and surgical intervention is successfully performed to remedy complications associated with Arnold-Chiari malformation.
Because Arnold-Chiari malformation does not present complications, normally, until a child has reached adulthood, many individuals who suffer from Arnold-Chiari malformation are not aware of the genetic disorder until such time as a complication arises. Symptoms of Arnold-Chiari malformation usually begin as an extreme headache, localized to the neck and base of the head and may, occasionally, radiate upward. Often, the headache associated with Arnold-Chiari malformation is mistakenly diagnosed as a migraine.
In addition to headache pain, individuals who suffer from Arnold-Chiari malformation may also report an increased incidence of neck and arm pain. This pain will radiate from the neck and into the arms, often affecting the hands. When these symptoms present, the pain is often misdiagnosed as a cervical herniated disc or complications involving the spinal or nerve impingement.
When headache pain, neck pain and arm pain are persistent, and then a complication of swallowing becomes more complex, it is at this point that Arnold-Chiari malformation is then considered a possible diagnosis. As the condition progresses, complications involving vision and blind spots are quite common.
To diagnose Arnold-Chiari malformation, an MRI is usually the clearest method, allowing for a visual inspection of the brain and components. Upon examination, the brain will demonstrate malformation around the cerebellum, with evidence of brain matter extending into the spinal column.
Once diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari malformation, the treatment plan will usually involve a surgical procedure to alleviate the pressure off of the spinal column, thus alleviating the neck, arm and headache pain. In this procedure, so as to protect the brain matter, a small part of the bottom of the skull is surgically removed, allowing for more room to expand the brain tissue. Occasionally, the brain tissue may require some compression to alleviate complications associated with cerebral spinal fluid.
For patients who are diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari malformation later in life, the recovery prognosis is very good when, and if, the condition is diagnosed at the onset of symptoms. With prolonged diagnosis and treatment, often, the complications may result in permanent nerve damage, leading to loss of vision, difficulties with swallowing and impaired mobility.