Getting the Right Diagnosis for Arnold-Chiari Syndrome

Arnold-Chiari malformation, also called Chiari formation, is a condition where the lower part of the human brain is pushed downward towards the spinal cord, close to the entrance of the skull. Arnold Chiari is of three types, where Type 1 is a non-serious form, while Type 2 and Type 3 are quite complicated and dangerous. Chiari malformations showed an occurrence rate of 1 in 1,000 births in the past. However, enhanced use of diagnostic imaging technologies shows that it is more common these days.

Diagnosis of Arnold-Chiari

In order to diagnose the Arnold Chiari condition, a doctor will initially review the medical history of a patient, followed by careful examination of symptoms and a physical examination, subsequently. The specialists also make use of imaging tests for determining the exact cause of the condition, as well as diagnose the condition. The tests performed include:

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Scan

An MRI is a modern technological breakthrough that makes use of powerful radio waves as well as magnets for creating a detailed view of the patient's body. It is a safe and painless test that generates detailed 3D images or a two-dimensional slice picture of body structures, such as tissues, bones, organs and nerves, which show the structural abnormalities in a patient's brain, resulting in the symptoms. Depending on the body parts that have to be scanned, MRI can take close to an hour for completion. It also provides clear images of the cerebellum that helps in determining whether the cerebellum extends clearly into the spinal canal. MRI is the frequently used technique to diagnose Chiari malformation; the MRI test is also repeated over time. It can be used to effectively monitor the actual progression of the disorder in a patient.

Cross Diagnosis

In a few instances, Chiari malformations are also discovered by chance when a magnetic resonance imaging scan for brain is done for investigating an entirely different condition. If a patient suspects any symptoms of Chiari malformation, then he/she should schedule an appointment with a doctor for MRI scan in order to confirm the diagnosis. The brain scan will generally show up any abnormalities with regards to the structure of the brain and the spine.

Computerised Topography (CT) Scan

Apart from MRI, a doctor can also prescribe a CT scan. The scan also makes use of X-rays for obtaining a cross-sectional image of the patient's body. A CT scan will help in revealing brain tumours, any damage to brain due to head injury, and abnormalities in the bone and the blood vessel, including other conditions. The test produces two-dimensional pictures of few brain tumours and cysts. This diagnostic process usually takes three to five minutes. It is a painless procedure which helps identify hydrocephalus and bone abnormalities associated with Chiari malformations.


An X-ray employs electromagnetic energy for generating images of bones and few tissues on a film. An X-ray generated for head and neck may not reveal this condition, but it helps in the identification of bone abnormalities related with this condition, with the process only taking a few minutes.

Proper diagnosis of Arnold-Chiari syndrome helps in correct identification of the condition, so that the right treatment process can be devised for the patient.