The Complexity of Arnold-Chiari Malformation
The Complexity of Arnold-Chiari Malformation
Nicki Lynn Pollock
To the medical doctor, Arnold-Chiari Malformation, which may have a genetic link, is characterized by a small or misshapen posterior fossa (the depression in the back of the skull), a reduction in cerebrospinal fluid pathways and a protrusion of the cerebellar tonsils through the bottom of the skull (foramen magnum) into the spinal canal resulting in a multitude of sensory-motor problems and even some autonomous malfunctions (1). These many symptoms can come in a variety of forms which often makes a clinical diagnosis difficult. To the patient this disorder can present not only physical difficulties but also mental distress. Treatment options and their success rates vary widely, and proponents of the cause are demanding more recognition, research, and success. The study of Arnold-Chiari malformations can lead to additional questions and new understandings about the I-function, sensory-motor input/output paths and the general make-up of the brain and nervous system, but a complete understanding of the disorder may be a long time coming.
Impairment and sometimes loss of motor control of the body and its extremities is one of the many effects of this disorder. Patients may complain of headaches, neck pain, coughing, sneezing, dizziness, vertigo, disequilibrium, muscle weakness, balance problems, and loss of fine motor control (1). The senses (hearing, sight, smell etc.) may also be affected in deleterious ways. On can have blurred vision, decreased sensation of limbs, unable to locate them without looking, decreased sense of taste, ringing of the ears etc. (2).
Two ideas about the nervous system that can be better understood from these observations are the concepts of having and locating the I-function. It seems that the I-function here is very often affected in terms of voluntary movement. A person with Arnold-Chiari malformation who has lost the feeling in and control of his arm for example will not be able to move it even upon someone's request and his or her own desire to do so. Some use of the I-function is definitely impaired. However, these observations do not seem to necessarily imply that some part of the I-function was damaged, because it may very well be located elsewhere- connections may have simply been lost. A person with Arnold-Chiari can still think and have a sense of self, but somehow can not connect with the various body parts that can be affected. Some uses and pathways of the I-function can be understood, but the exact location of it remains vague.
A lack of sensory input can also provide clues about pathways within the nervous system. Depending on the severity and specific location of the Chiari malformation different senses may be affected. Again, the location of where this information is processed can not be determined for sure from these observations alone. It is obvious that the pathway needed for sensory information to travel is indeed affected but not the ultimate processing center itself.
Recently, diagnosing this disorder has become relatively easier with the advent of the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) so that doctors and patients no longer have to rely on a symptom-based diagnosis which was troublesome for both (3). The symptoms vary widely and encompass many parts of the body. Many deemed Arnold-Chiari sufferers the victims of some psychosomatic disease before the biological nature of the disorder was understood (5). Now, with the possibility of having a genetic predisposition for Chiari and the early detection devices available, one can more easily be diagnosed properly (2).
There are both medical and non-medical ways to treat Arnold-Chiari malformations. When symptoms develop, patients should seek a doctor's advice to consider a posterior fossa and upper cervical decompression. This procedure can provide more room around the lower brainstem and promotes improved neurologic functioning, though it is not a guaranteed solution (3). Patients may also benefit from various and symptom appropriate forms of physical and occupational therapy. Some patients also explore non-traditional options such as herbal therapy, acupuncture and others (5).
The symptomology of Arnold-Chiari malformations can lead to many useful observations of the pathways used by the nervous system to maintain control and awareness of the body in terms of the I-function and sensory-motor abilities. However, due to this large range of symptoms and the fact that current attempts to treat them all are not always successful, there may be other things going on in other areas of the nervous system which contribute to the overall effect of Chiari. The situation at the base of the skull, where the malformations are readily noticeable and are thought to be the cause, may be more complicated then believed or known at the time. As always, a better understanding of what is actually happening in patients with Arnold-Chiari malformation is needed.
10/18/2005, from a Reader on the Web
I am writing these comments to ask for help of any kind on my situation. I was diagnosed with arnold chiari type 1 in june of 2001, i had the surgery in august the same year. it was successfull for about 3 1/2 untill i had a fall a work in april of 2005 which i struck the back of my head on metal racks. since i have had all of my symtoms return plus more. My case is very extrodinay due to me having to neck fusions prior to my chiari surgery. I have only seen 1 nuroligist and 2 spine and pain specialist and a nerocycoligist which all say that i am fine to return to work, but i still have severe headaches, sneezing, numbess in left side extremeties, drop attacks "falling spells" abromal sentations of extremeties, ring of the ears, double or blured visions. The only treatment that I am gettings is from my local faimly doctor who prescibes me 50mg Oxicotine pills to help with the headaches. If your are aware of any documentaiton or programs that can help me or you need more information PLEASE help.
I have found a wonderful Neurosurgeon at the University of Colorado his name is Dr. Jen-Peter Witt. I suggest you contact him, possible he can help you. Good luck.
Do not know where you are located, but please consider seeing Dr. Dan S. Heffez at the Milwaukee Neurological Institute, 414-438-6500. I, too, had surgeries to the cervical spine, and very recently surgery for Chiari Malformation.
I also had decompression surgery in 2002. My symptoms improved until I returned to work. Then they became more severe. Everyone keeps telling me that I'm having migranes and symproms cannot return after surgery. I worked at a local hospital for fourteen years, they relieved me of my position in May because I could no longer perform my duties. It's hard to play with my children, I've gained weight, and riding in cars is hard. It's even difficult to look at a computer screen for more than five or ten minutes. If you can offer me any advice or suggestions on where to get better treatment I would be appreciative. Thank you.
Hello everyone. I live in Calgary Canada, and had surgery for Chiari Malformation in 2003. I have since had all my symptoms return. My family doctor has decided my condition is to complicated and has discontinued my care. I now do not have a doctor, my surgion has moved and there is no support in Calgary that I know of. I am a 42 year old female and can't take this pain anymore. No one understands how I feel everyday. I just want the pain to go away but it never does. I would appreciate any information on Chiari or any Canadian resorces. Please help ... Jacquie, 10 September 2006
I was diagnosed with ACM in April of 2004 and was going to have surgery the following month. During routine pre-surgery bloodwork they found me to have Von Willabrons disease with is a rare blood disease. Now my Dr. doesn't think it is safe because of possible complications with my blood. I have one of the top neurosurgeons in the nation by the name of Swiad N. Swaid. Yes, that is really his name and he is at Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama. Has anyone had any similar problems? ... Angela Dye, 16 November 2006
How are you doing, I was diagnosed in february of this year. I had surgery on June 5, 2006 and I am doing wonderful. My doctor name is David Barnett and Baylor Medical Center downtown dallas. He is a wonderful, patient and he is a christian. He told me I had one of the worst cases he had ever seen and that my progress is great. I have returned to work and I am back at school. I travel out of town and I feel great. Please give him a call I know he could possible help ... Ruby Canty, 4 January 2007
I was diagnosed with ACM over 10 years ago....it has recently become so bad that I lose vision and often black out. I went back to my neurologist and he did an MRI and an electrode scan and found that I have a major blockage....I am now waiting for the surgeons office to call me to set up an appt to do the surgery. However, I am terrified to death to go under for fear of not coming out of it ok. I have a 6 year old daughter who depends on me and thats what my main fear is. Can anyone explain to me about what happens in the surgery and afterwards??? Thank You ... Natashe Harrison, 23 January 2007
I have just been diagnosed due to a serious fall I had Dec.a year ago and have been referred to a neurosurgeon at Shands Gainesville, UOfFla. Can anyone explain the surgery to me. I came home after finding this out and had a few glasses of wine to cope. Truthfully I am scared. I am 58, took a fall in a pot hole at a convenience store which broke my ankle, tore the miniscus in my right knee and both rotator cuffs. I also hit my head on the curb so hard it knocked me out for seconds. Any info would be so appreciated ... Marilynn, 25 January 2007
try having acs with fibrous dysplasia in the whole left side of your head and most of your left side of your body ... M.C. Wiggs, 12 February 2007
I don't know where you are located, but Dr. Steven Swanson at the Michigan Brain and Spine Institute in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti, MI. was fantastic. I had decompression surgery 10 years ago, and have only recently had some minor symptoms, probably due to 4 pregnancies in those years ... Megan, 3 May 2007
My daughter has pain levels of ten, she is not decompressed with 7 mm herniations. We are taking her to the Chiari Institute hopefully in July, and we have to have the dilaudid, an opioid, for the intractable chronic pain. Under the WV code laws, opioids can be overridden by a physician for this kind of pain.
Her pain is left eye oribital centering with the whole left quadarant of her head hurting like someone, she says, "hit her with a baseball bat." WE are trying to manage the pain, with vicodin in less quantities, and she is now in the hospital taking the dilaudid along with diamox, by a dr. who suffers with chiari too. It is a small world, and my chiari is 2mm, and in late fifties, I am struggling with all of the sypmptoms of chiari. Not the sixty of them, but many, and both my daughter and I share the phonobhobia, or the aversion for noises. So her migraines are never over, they just reduce them.
What meds do you know about, and why can the opioids not be used? If she does not decompress, and you have the stories that doesn't always work, how does she live and function like this?
The dr. now is pressured, he is young, and Mel has the DEA profile watch, then discovery comes with ACM. SO she needs her pain managed, and this can be a challenge. The right drugs, the right levels, and the right management.
I see no easy solution, and I just take the pain, because a four or a five is not like a ten. She has a TEN, and takes it down to a five or so.
So this is not easy, and we need some HELP ... Gary Richards, 7 May 2007
I was diagnosed with mild Arnold Chiari about 5 years ago after having had seve4al seizures. I've had no problems until recently sudden pain on one side of my head near my ears. Since no doctor seems to know much about it, do you know if this could be from the chiari? It's not a constant pain - like someone hitting my on the side of the head ... Andi NIchols, 13 September 2007
Should someone with Arnold Chiari Malformation 1 be in the Marines? My nephew just enlisted. Is he at a greater risk of injury than if he did not have this condition? ... Denise J, 30 September 2007
my mom has this promblem. she had a surgery when she was and then again when she as 26. I was really scared when I first found out but now I know it's all in God's hands ... Kali, 30 October 2007
I've been dealing with my ACM for almost 20 yrs and could not find and MD that wanted to take the time to understand and help. I was always referred to a surgeon, and we know what they like to do, which I elected not to do until I could have more of a guarantee of the results. So here are a few things that I have found to work for me. 1.Find a really good Chiropractor and see regularly, before the symptoms are too strong. 2. Excedrine for migrane at the first twing and take 3, to kick it and always with a little food. 3. Get alot of sleep, the more the better. 4. Eliminate as much stress as possible, I know that's impossible but set boundry's it helps! 5.Take frequent breaks from work if at a computer. 6. Don't work at a job that requires alot of standing, it increases the symptoms. 7. Stay physical, the stronger we stay the less likely the ACM will win! 8. Keep your weight down, the more overweight the stronger the symptoms. 9. Watch the salt intake, the swelling can be brutal. Hope this will help someone. It's years of trial and error! ... Edie, 12 November 2007