Chiari Malformation: A common yet rarely discussed brain disorder

Saturday was Jenni Lee's first day back at KVUE after being diagnosed with Chiari Malformation one, a brain disorder that is more common that many people think.

Saturday marked Jenni Lee's return to KVUE after she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation 1, a brain disorder that is much more common than many people realize.

RELATED: Jenni Lee returning to KVUE following life-changing brain diagnosis

Not only is the disorder common but not many people know about Chiari Malformation, so one of the many neurosurgeons working with Lee, Dr. Marcella Madera, MD, came to KVUE to shed some light on the disorder.

"Chiari Malformation is a condition in which the bony space enclosing the lower part of the brain, the cerebellum, is smaller than normal," Madera explained. "Crowding causes the cerebellar tonsils, the bottom of the cerebellum, to push through the skull and down into the spinal canal. The herniated tonsils block the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. Instead of moving in an easy, pulsating movement through this opening, the fluid begins to force its way through pushing the tonsils down even further and exerting pressure on the brainstem and spinal cord."

The symptoms vary from person to person. Some may experience no symptoms, while others may experience severe symptoms. Because the brainstem is responsible for most bodily functions, the disorder causes all kinds of seemingly strange symptoms. The five most common are:

  • Pressure-like headaches at the back of the skull that worsen with physical strain or coughing. They are often accompanied by neck pain
  • Hoarseness or swallowing problems.
  • Sleep apnea
  • Weakness or numbness in an extremity
  • Balance problems

Chiari is seen in people of all ages. It is three times more prevalent in women than men. 

Not all surgeons are comfortable with performing this operation, so it is important to find a surgeon with Chiari experience. 

You can learn more about Lee's experience and recovery here

You can reach out to Dr. Madera here and learn more about her here and here

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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