The relationship between obesity and symptomatic Chiari i malformation in the pediatric population

Sandi Lam*, Brenda Auffinger, Matthew Tormenti, Christopher Bonfield, Stephanie Greene

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Concomitant with the rise in childhood obesity in the United States is an increase in the diagnosis of Chiari I malformation (CM1). Objective: To discern a correlation between obesity and CM1, defined as >5 mm of cerebellar tonsillar descent on sagittal magnetic resonance imaging. Methods: Charts of CM1 patients aged 2-20 years were retrospectively reviewed. Chiari size, age, body mass index (BMI), and CM1 signs/symptoms were recorded. Patients were stratified by age: 2-9, 10-14, and 15-20 years. Mixed-effect linear models and linear regression analysis were applied to investigate the relationship between BMI-for-age percentiles and CM1 signs/symptoms. Results: One hundred sixty-seven patients were included (mean age 14.5 ± 2.97 years, BMI 22.98 ± 6.5, and Chiari size 12.27 mm ± 5.91). When adjusted for age, 42% were overweight or obese-higher than normative BMI for children in the studied area (29.6%). When stratified by age, patients between 2 and 9 years were most commonly obese and presented the highest mean BMI (25.66), largest Chiari size (13.58), and highest incidence of headache (75%) and syringomyelia (66.67%). Patients between 15 and 20 years were most commonly overweight and presented the smallest Chiari size (11.76 mm), but the highest incidence of cerebellar (50%) and brainstem (8.55%) compression symptoms. A significant positive correlation existed between BMI and headache in the first two age groups: (R2: 0.36, P = 0.03; R2: 0.39, P = 0.01, respectively). Obese patients had higher incidence of headache in the 10-14 group (R2: 0.37, P = 0.02) and the largest Chiari size in the 15-20 group (R2: 0.40, P = 0.03). Conclusions: The pediatric CM1 population is more likely to be overweight or obese. Younger obese patients presented the highest incidence of Chiari-related headache symptoms, and older obese patients, the highest incidence of findings other than headache. Thus, body weight and age should be considered when evaluating children with CM1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-325
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Pediatric Neurosciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2015


  • Body mass index
  • Chiari 1 malformation
  • idiopathic intracranial hypertension
  • obesity
  • pediatric
  • pseudotumor cerebri
  • tonsillar descent

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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