The natural history of untreated Chiari malformation Type I (CM-I) is poorly defined. The object of this study was to investigate outcomes in pediatric patients with CM-I who were followed up without surgical intervention.
Methods. The authors retrospectively reviewed 124 cases involving patients with CM-I who presented between July 1999 and July 2008 and were followed up without surgery. The patients ranged in age from 0.9 to 19.8 years (mean 7 years). The duration of follow-up ranged from 1.0 to 8.6 years (mean 2.83 years). Imaging findings, symptoms, and findings on neurological examinations were noted at presentation and for the duration of follow-up.
Results. The mean extent of tonsillar herniation at presentation was 8.35 mm (range 5–22 mm). Seven patients had a syrinx at presentation. The syrinx size did not change in these patients on follow-up imaging studies. No new syrinxes developed in the remaining patients who underwent subsequent imaging. The total number of patients with presenting symptoms was 81. Of those 81 patients, 67 demonstrated symptoms that were not typical of CM-I. Of the 14 patients with symptoms attributed to CM-I, 9 had symptoms that were not severe or frequent enough to warrant surgery, and surgery was recommended in the remaining 5 patients. Chiari malformation Type I was also diagnosed in 43 asymptomatic patients who had imaging studies performed for various reasons. No new neurological deficits were noted in any patient for the duration of follow-up.
Conclusions. The majority of patients with CM-I who are followed up without surgery do not progress clinically or radiologically. Longer follow-up of this cohort will be required to determine if symptoms or new neurological findings develop over the course of many years.