Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Klaire. Klaire Wonders, “What is Chiari Malformation” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Klaire!

Did you know that your brain is in charge of everything your body does? It’s true! When you and your body develop as expected, there are usually no problems. Sometimes, a slight issue that started before you were born can cause concerns later in life. Fewer than one in 1,000 people are born with Chiari malformation (key-AR-ee mal-fore-MAY-shun). Let’s look together at what that means!

First found by Professor Hans Chiari in the 1890s, Chiari malformation is the diagnosis for abnormality of the brain where the spine joins the base of the skull. There are four levels of malformation: I, II, III, and IV.

The cerebellum is the lower part of the brain. It controls movement of muscles and a person’s coordination. At the base of the skull is an opening, the foramen (fer-AY-men) magnum. This hole is the space where the spinal cord passes through to attach to the brain. When part of the cerebellum pushes through the space with the spinal cord, a malformation happens. Chiari malformation I is the most common type. We do not find it until a person is in their teens or adulthood.

Type I may exist for many years with no symptoms. Other times, people have headaches, sleep apnea, balance problems, scoliosis, and throat problems. The pressure from the brain on the spinal cord causes issues because it changes the flow of spinal fluid to and from the brain.

The birth defect spina bifida is associated with Type II. When the spine doesn’t completely cover the spinal cord at birth, spina bifida occurs. When Type II co-occurs with spina bifida, it forces the tissue of the brain all the way into the space with the spinal cord. Children with these conditions may have larger than typical heads because of a buildup of fluid in the skull.

The rarest malformations are types III and IV. These are also the types that cause the most health issues. Many who suffer with these birth defects do not survive.

Researchers have not yet found the cause of Chiari malformation. What they have discovered is that there are many differences in patients. Symptoms vary widely. When patients visit doctors with complaints that might be malformation, we can test them with a CT scan or an MRI.

Some people do best with no treatment. Others may have surgery. Medicines may help if there is pain. All races of people can have malformations. Women are more likely to have them than men.

Isn’t the human brain awesome? Would you like to be a doctor who studies brains? Keep wondering and learning and there’s no telling how much your brain can achieve!

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.8, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.4, CCRA.L.5, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.W.4, NCAS.CR.3

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow in Wonderopolis, check out the little gold guy swimming around the bowl. He may be smarter than you think.