Several lines of evidence suggest common pathophysiological mechanisms in Chiari malformation Type I (CMI) and idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH). It has been hypothesized that tonsillar ectopy, a typical finding in CMI, is the result of elevated intracranial pressure (ICP) combined with a developmentally small posterior cranial fossa (PCF). To explore this hypothesis, the authors specifically investigated whether ICP is comparable in CMI and IIH and whether intracranial volumes (ICVs) are different in patients with CMI and IIH, which could explain the tonsillar ectopy in CMI. The authors also examined whether the symptom profile is comparable in these 2 patient groups.
The authors identified all CMI and IIH patients who had undergone overnight diagnostic ICP monitoring during the period from 2002 to 2014 and reviewed their clinical records and radiological examinations. Ventricular CSF volume (VV), PCF volume (PCFV), and total ICV were calculated from initial MRI studies by using volumetric software. The static and pulsatile ICP scores during overnight monitoring were analyzed. Furthermore, the authors included a reference (REF) group consisting of patients who had undergone ICP monitoring due to suspected idiopathic normal-pressure hydrocephalus or chronic daily headache and showed normal pressure values.
Sixty-six patients with CMI and 41 with IIH were identified, with comparable demographics noted in both groups. The occurrence of some symptoms (headache, nausea, and/or vomiting) was comparable between the cohorts. Dizziness and gait ataxia were significantly more common in patients with CMI, whereas visual symptoms, diplopia, and tinnitus were significantly more frequent in patients with IIH. The cranial volume measurements (VV, PCFV, and ICV) of the CMI and IIH patients were similar. Notably, 7.3% of the IIH patients had tonsillar descent qualifying for diagnosis of CMI (that is, > 5 mm). The extent of tonsillar ectopy was significantly different between the CMI and IIH cohorts (p < 0.001) but also between these 2 cohorts and the REF group. Pulsatile ICP was elevated in both cohorts without any significant between-group differences; however, static ICP was significantly higher (p < 0.001) in the IIH group.
This study showed comparable and elevated pulsatile ICP, indicative of impaired intracranial compliance, in both CMI and IIH cohorts, while static ICP was higher in the IIH cohort. The data did not support the hypothesis that reduced PCFV combined with increased ICP causes tonsillar ectopy in CMI. Even though impaired intracranial compliance seems to be a common pathophysiological mechanism behind both conditions, the mechanisms explaining the different clinical and radiological presentations of CMI and IIH remain undefined.