Outcome following hindbrain decompression of symptomatic Chiari malformations in children previously treated with myelomeningocele closure and shunts

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✓ Between 1975and 1989, 25 children treated with myelomeningocele closure and shunting for hydrocephalus at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh developed progressive lower brain-stem dysfunction from their Chiari malformation. Retrospective univariate and multivariate analyses of these cases were undertaken to assess the relationship between preoperative clinical factors and postoperative outcome. Since earlier reports have suggested that neonates with symptomatic Chiari malformations show a less favorable response than older children to craniocervical decompression, particular attention was directed at examining the effect of age on preoperative symptoms and postoperative outcome. Patients were subdivided by age into two groups, namely: 13 patients who became symptomatic before 2 months of age (neonatal group) and 12 older infants and children who developed initial symptoms between 6 months and 10 years of age. Once symptoms developed, patients in both groups deteriorated progressively until brain-stem decompression was performed. The mode of presentation and the rate and extent of neurological deterioration differed substantially in the two groups. Whereas the neonates typically showed rapid neurological deterioration and often manifested profound brain-stem dysfunction within a period of several days, the older patients experienced a more insidious symptom progression and rarely demonstrated the severe degree of impairment seen in the neonates.

All patients underwent suboccipital craniectomy, cervical laminectomy, and dural decompression. A shunt from the fourth ventricle and/or syrinx to the subarachnoid space was placed in those with significant syringomyelia. Following surgery, 17 patients had complete or nearly complete resolution of all signs of brain-stem compression, three had mild to moderate residual deficits, and five showed no improvement. Outcome correlated closely with the preoperative neurological status. In particular, the presence of bilateral vocal cord paralysis was associated with a poor response to surgery (p < 0.001 on both univariate and multivariate analyses). Of the six patients (all neonates) who progressed to complete bilateral vocal cord paralysis before surgery, only one improved. In contrast, all patients with less profound but nonetheless severe deficits recovered function postoperatively. Although the neonates as a group had a poorer outcome than did the older patients (p = 0.02 on univariate analysis), this in large part reflected their more severe preoperative impairments; neonates who still had some preservation of vocal cord function before surgery subsequently did as well as the older patients. Accordingly, age did not prove to be an independent prognostic factor on multivariate analysis. Taken together, these results indicate that, in most patients with symptomatic Chiari II malformations (including neonates), neurological deficits are potentially reversible if hindbrain decompression is performed expeditiously.

Article Information

Address reprint requests to: Ian F. Pollack, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 3705 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.

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