Spine Or Neck Injury From An Auto Accident? What You Need To Know About Chiari 1 Malformation

Posted on: 29 September 2015

If you've recently been in an auto accident and have been experiencing headaches, neck pain, dizziness, unsteady gait, and numbness and tingling in your hands and feet, the auto accident may have caused or aggravated a condition called Chiari 1 malformation. Here's what you need to know. 

Chiari 1 malformation

This condition is caused by the herniation of the cerebellum, which makes it and the brain stem push down into the foramen magnum and spinal canal. This herniation puts pressure on the cerebellum, which is responsible for controlling balance, and may cause the cerebrospinal fluid to be blocked. The blockage of cerebrospinal fluid can cause numerous symptoms throughout your entire body, including difficulty swallowing and problems with your heart and lungs. 

Chiari can be either congenital or acquired. Congenital Chiari is caused by structural defects that may occur during development of a fetus or genetic mutations. Many people who are born with congenital Chiari are asymptomatic until they reach adulthood. Some people born with Chiari do not have symptoms at all until they experience a trauma in the affected region. Acquired Chiari can be caused by infection or by trauma to the spine or neck that causes the cerebrospinal fluid to drain, which results in the herniation of the cerebellum into the foramen magnum and spinal canal. 

Previous medical history

During your consult with your auto accident attorney, he or she probably asked you if you had any preexisting medical conditions. And the insurance company likely poured through your medical records to try to find symptoms that may have led your doctors to misdiagnose or not diagnose obvious signs that you already suffered from Chiari. The reason the insurance company looks for this information is so they cannot be held responsible for damages caused to you from the auto accident. 

However, even if the insurance company does find viable questions as to your previous medical history, which could preclude you from receiving compensation in an auto accident lawsuit, you may have a case of medical malpractice against your doctors if they failed to diagnose congenital Chiari if you previously had symptoms of having the condition. 

Undiagnosed & aggravated

Yet, at the same time, a previously undiagnosed malformation may not have caused symptoms unless aggravated by trauma. Take Sarah Ashley's story, for example. Sarah was in an auto accident, which caused whiplash and a concussion. The trauma she experienced aggravated her undiagnosed Chiari 1 malformation and two other conditions to the point that she needed brain surgery to have any semblance of her previous life. 

Chiari caused by trauma 

As was stated before, trauma can cause the cerebellum to herniate into the spinal canal. However, unless you've had previous CT scans and/or MRIs of your brain and neck region, it can be extremely difficult for anyone to determine whether or not you already had the condition and it was just asymptomatic. Therefore, be sure to inform your lawyer if you've had CT scans or MRIs that may show that you did not have the herniation previously. 

Treatment for Chiari 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Chiari but it can be treated through brain surgery. However, most neurosurgeons recommend lifestyle changes if at all possible before brain surgery is considered. Most people with Chiari deal with symptoms for the rest of their lives, even after brain surgery.

For this reason, it is crucial that you do not rush into any compensation agreements too fast. Give the medical team time to research your condition and delve into your medical records. The compensation you may be awarded may be increased if the medical team finds that the trauma from the auto accident aggravated or caused Chiari 1 malformation.