Chiari Malformation Symptoms

Most Chiari malformation symptoms are a result of the pressure on the brain stem caused by the malformation. The most common symptom experienced is headache, which is usually found in the backof the neck and head. These headaches are often worsened by coughing or sneezing. In infants and small children, these headaches may be accompanied by irritability or crying.

Symptoms of all types of Chiari malformation can include:

  • headache – caused or made worse by coughing, straining and sneezing, which are actions known as valsalva maneuvers
  • neck and shoulder pain
  • balance issues that can make it difficult to walk
  • poor control of body
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • nystagmus – side-to-side movements of the eyes
  • change in the sound of your voice
  • swallowing difficulties – hard time swallowing or often swallowing the wrong way
  • facial pain
  • tinnitus – ringing in the ears
  • hearing difficulties – decreased hearing or “fullness” in the ears
  • sleep apnea – pause in breathing during sleep
  • insomnia – difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • heart palpitations – increased heart rate
  • muscle weakness
  • chronic fatigue
  • painful tingling in the hands or feet
  • central hypertension - high blood pressure due to Cushing’s reflex response

Chiari patients under the age of 3 most often have a problem controlling the area of the throat at the back of the mouth. This is called the oropharyngeal area. Problems in this area can make it hard to swallow and speak. These problems can lead to delayed speech development, excessive drooling and gagging. A few common problems in patients over the age of 3 are curved spine, headache and neck pain. Poor body movement control and a strange sense of feeling also are possible.