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Before you undergo Chiari malformation surgery, it can be helpful to have an understanding of what you can expect afterward, such as costs involved, recovery time and any potential risks. Having answers to these questions beforehand can help set your mind at ease and reduce some of the stress that can be associated with undergoing any medical procedure.

Types of Chiari Malformation Surgery

There are two general types of Chiari malformation surgery: traditional and minimally invasive. The goal of all Chiari surgeries involves creating more space for the brain and/or spinal cord, helping relieve pressure and easing the symptoms you have been experiencing. Your doctor will recommend the treatment option that is most appropriate for you based on your individual malformation and other anatomic and health factors.

Traditional Chiari surgery is what you would typically think of as open surgery. In Chiari decompression surgery, the surgeon often performs a craniectomy, removing a small section of the skull to access the area, then removes a section of the covering of the brain and replaces it with a flexible patch. You may also have a small section of your uppermost vertebrae removed in a cervical laminectomy.

Minimally invasive surgeries use microscopic visualization and special instruments to create small incisions and disturb as little of the surrounding tissues as possible. Minimally invasive Chiari decompression eliminates the need for patch material and minimizes the bony removal while yielding effective results.

From this point on, Chiari malformation surgery will be discussed as being either traditional or minimally invasive for the purpose of discussing costs, recovery and risks.

The Cost of Chiari Malformation Surgery

To avoid any unpleasant surprises following your Chiari malformation surgery, be sure you have a thorough understanding of the costs involved, as well as how your insurance benefits will be applied. If your surgeon’s office employs an insurance benefits specialist, he or she can be invaluable while navigating your insurance policy. If that resource is not available to you, be sure to consult with a representative from your insurance company to discuss your exact coverage for your specific procedures.

You will also want to be sure to factor in any other costs in addition to the Chiari malformation surgery itself. This can help you plan ahead and avoid unnecessary stress during your recovery process. Some additional costs you may want to keep in mind include:

  • Childcare
  • Help with chores, housecleaning and/or errands
  • Transportation
  • Follow-up visits and diagnostic tests
  • Prescription medications
  • Time missed at work

Recovery From Chiari Malformation Surgery

Your recovery from your Chiari malformation surgery is a very individual process, and your personal doctor will be able to give you the most accurate idea of what you can expect.

Following traditional Chiari malformation surgery, most patients will spend up to a week in the hospital, while patients who undergo minimally invasive Chiari malformation surgery typically spend a little less, about three days. Recovery is generally a little quicker and involves less pain following minimally invasive procedures.

Once you begin your recovery at home, you will need to follow specific activity guidelines set out for you by your doctor. These typically include a period of limited physical activity and lifting. Most patients are able to return to work in 6-12 weeks. Patients who undergo minimally invasive treatment will typically experience shorter recovery times.

Risks of Chiari Malformation Surgery

As you learn about the risks related to Chiari malformation surgery, it’s important to keep in mind that your doctor has considered all the potential risks and benefits of the different treatment options before making a recommendation. However, part of being an informed patient is understanding what those potential risks are.

There are some risks that are related to surgery in general, no matter what the procedure.

These include:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Abnormal reaction to anesthesia
  • Nerve damage (paralysis, numbness)
  • Stroke

These risks are rarely encountered because of the advance of medical technology and the nature of the procedures themselves. Certain risks, specific to Chiari malformation surgery are reduced following a minimally invasive procedure compared to traditional Chiari malformation surgery. These include:

  • Cerebrospinal fluid leakage
  • Hydrocephalus

Both of these complications are infrequent, and if they occur may resolve with non-surgical maneuvers.  Your doctor will discuss these potential complications with you prior to your procedure.

Planning Ahead for a Restful Recovery

Your decision to learn more about your upcoming Chiari malformation surgery is a great way to reduce the stress of undergoing a surgical procedure. Now that you have a better idea of what to expect, you can better anticipate related costs, recovery time and potential risks. The more you prepare now, the less you have to do later, allowing you to focus your time and energy on healing.

Remember, these guidelines are reflective of what many patients experience, but your own doctor can give you the most accurate information related to your individual situation. Be sure to bring up any questions or concerns at your next appointment to better foster your understanding of the details surrounding your upcoming Chiari malformation surgery.
Chiari malformation treatments