OBJECT: The authors describe a series of children with Chiari I malformation who presented with fulminating symptoms of "cerebellar fits" characterized by drop attacks with or without deterioration of consciousness, opisthotonic posturing, and varying degrees of respiratory compromise. METHODS: A retrospective analysis was undertaken of the medical records of 47 consecutive patients undergoing surgery for symptomatic Chiari I malformations at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. Thirteen (28%) of the 47 patients presented with complaints consistent with cerebellar fits. Before the correct diagnosis was made, nine (69%) of the 13 children had previously undergone evaluation with electroencephalography and/or electrocardicography and Holter monitoring because of suspected cortical epilepsy or cardiogenic syncope. In each of the 13 children magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated pegged cerebellar tonsils herniated below the foramen magnum. A deep indentation or blanched discoloration of the cerebellar tonsils was noted in five (38%) of these 13 patients at the time of surgery. Of patients with symptomatic Chiari I malformations, the mean degree of tonsillar herniation was significantly less for those in whom cerebellar fits occurred than those in whom they were absent (8.8 mm and 13.9 mm, respectively; p = 0.007). In only one of the patients with cerebellar fits was a syrinx present, and this was a small focal lower thoracic collection. Spells resolved after surgery in all patients who presented with cerebellar fits. CONCLUSIONS: Cerebellar fits may mimic other disorders such as cardiogenic syncope and epileptic seizures. The correct diagnosis may be delayed or the conditions may be misdiagnosed by those who fail to consider Chiari I malformation as a cause of drop attacks, abnormal extensor posturing, and apneic spells in children. The response to decompressive surgery in these patients is gratifying.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology