What is the diagnosis of Chiari Malformation?

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 05, 2013

Many people with CMs have no symptoms and their malformations are discovered only during the course of diagnosis or treatment for another disorder.  The doctor will perform a physical exam and check the person's memory, cognition, balance (a function controlled by the cerebellum), touch, reflexes, sensation, and motor skills (functions controlled by the spinal cord).  The physician may also order one of the following diagnostic tests:

An X-ray uses electromagnetic energy to produce images of bones and certain tissues on film.  An X-ray of the head and neck cannot reveal a CM but can identify bone abnormalities that are often associated with CM.  This safe and painless procedure can be done in a doctor’s office and takes only a few minutes.

Computed tomography (also called a CT scan) uses X-rays and a computer to produce two-dimensional pictures of bone and vascular irregularities, certain brain tumors and cysts, brain damage from head injury, and other disorders.  Scanning takes about 3 to 5 minutes.  This painless, noninvasive procedure is done at an imaging center or hospital on an outpatient basis and can identify hydrocephalus and bone abnormalities associated with CM.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the imaging procedure most often used to diagnose a CM.  Like CT, it is painless and noninvasive and is performed at an imaging center or hospital.  MRI uses radio waves and a powerful magnetic field to produce either a detailed three-dimensional picture or a two-dimensional “slice” of body structures, including tissues, organs, bones, and nerves.  Depending on the part(s) of the body to be scanned, MRI can take up to an hour to complete. 


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