Chiari malformation Type I and syrinx in children undergoing magnetic resonance imaging

J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2011 Aug;8(2):205-13. doi: 10.3171/2011.5.PEDS1121.


Object: Chiari malformation Type I (CM-I) with an associated spinal syrinx is a common pediatric diagnosis. A better understanding of the relative age-related prevalence and MR imaging characteristics of these associated conditions may lead to improved treatment decisions.

Methods: The authors performed a retrospective review of 14,116 consecutive individuals 18 years of age or younger who had undergone brain or cervical spine MR imaging at the University of Michigan between November 1997 and August 2008. In the patients with CM-I, demographic, clinical, and radiographic information was recorded.

Results: Five hundred nine children (3.6%) with CM-I were identified. Among these patients, 23% also had a spinal cord syrinx, and 86% of the syringes were found in the cervical spine. The MR imaging prevalence of CM-I with a syrinx was 1.2% in girls and 0.5% in boys (p < 0.0001). The severity of impaired CSF flow at the foramen magnum was associated with the amount of tonsillar herniation (p < 0.0001) and conformation of the tonsils (p < 0.0001). Patients with CM-I were treated surgically in 35% of cases; these patients exhibited more severe tonsillar herniation (p < 0.0001) and impaired CSF flow (p < 0.0001) as compared with those who did not undergo surgery. On imaging, 32% of all the patients with CM-I were considered symptomatic by the treating physician. Patients were more likely to be considered symptomatic if they were female, had a syrinx, displayed abnormal tonsillar pulsations, or had a greater amount of tonsillar herniation.

Conclusions: In this study the authors describe the age-related prevalence and MR imaging characteristics of CM-I and its association with a syrinx and other abnormalities in a large group of children who underwent MR imaging for any indication. Syringes are more common in older children, in girls, and in patients with a greater degree of tonsillar descent and CSF flow impairment.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Distribution
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / epidemiology*
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / pathology*
  • Cervical Vertebrae
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Distribution
  • Syringomyelia / epidemiology*
  • Syringomyelia / pathology*