Startle Reflex

Hi, my family has always teased me for overreacting to loud noises, sudden movements, something falling. I will throw my arms up in the air and scream so loud. I usually turn quickly toward the noise and hurt my neck. If I see a child is falling, I scream and and try to help and I can hurt myself. I can’t control my reaction! Yesterday at Applebee’s a waiter started to sing happy birthday and I screamed so loud and threw my arms up and jerked my neck. I am still hurting. Does anyone with Chiari have this over reaction to noises or movement? I can’t find much on the Internet. Tina from Wi

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The startle reflex is also called the Moro primitive reflex. It is listed in the Newbies Guide to Chiari on this site under “Dizziness and Chiari”. The Moro reflex also has a ‘threat’ component and a movement component. This is what it sounds like you are describing.

What the emergence or lack of repression of this reflex means is that, for whatever reasons, the upper levels of the brain are no longer repressing the lower brain in regards to this reflex. The corresponding exercise outlined on this site can help to reduce the Moro’s response. If you have any questions on the particulars give a shout.

Hey Tina,

I do have something similar although no screaming it’s like the jerks reacton you get when falling to sleep, mine is like myleoclonic. Don’t know if this helps!

Sara, from Canada

Yes, I have experienced that and still do. When I worked I had to try and camouflage it as it was not physically or socially acceptable. However, at the time I did not know why I did this until I was diagnosed. This, as far as I can tell you is completely normal with chiari.

Hi Sara, I will have to look up myeloclonic, since I don’t know what that means. Earlier I was reading all your symptoms you had sent me in a post, and I have many of the same…down to the palpitations, arms fall asleep, vision (jerky, blurred and bad floaters since I was 18), speech (mixing up words), dropping things, weakness in hand/arm, sometimes confusion, dizziness. Over heating, gurgling in my head sounds, crackling/crunching sounds when I move my head. Sometimes it feels like my head could fall off and roll away.

WOW!! I had no idea that was the Chiari causing it. I am exactly like that. I even went through a situation like the one you described - going bananas over a waitress singing happy birthday.
Something that also happens to me is when I am on a car and any other vehicle does a sudden movement, I scream like we were having the worst accident imaginable. It is aweful to have this condition. But I really thought it was a stupid part of my person.

Wow too! I do the same thing with driving. Scare my husband all the time with a gasp or a scream for no reason. Sometimes my brain thinks we are going to crash and have an accident when I see another car. Tina from WI

Yes, I do too. I choose my seat carefully when eating out. I try to sit with my back to a wall so I can see everything.

Hi Emma, I see you had decompression surgery in 2011 and had a syrinx in the spinal cord. How are you doing since the surgery? Is the herniation totally gone? Syrinx? I haven’t done any research on the surgery yet, just what I read here. I was diagnosed 4 months ago. I can function pretty good, so I am not willing to take the risk of surgery, even though the Nuerosurgeon, Dr Heffez, thinks I should, and have neck surgery for my CSS (9.5mm at c3/4, c5/6 c4/5 is 9.9mm), DDD and bulging discs. He wants to replace 3 discs. I am so very lucky I have no syrinx! Not sure if I will develope one in the future. My caudal brain stem is outside of the cranial vault and has a bulge, Dr said during surgery the brain stem cannot be touched. So whatever symptoms are due the to brainstem falling and the bulge in it cannot be fixed. Tina from WI

I have found the Moro exercises to be extremely helpful in minimizing dorky and flaky responses in public. I do not believe this response to external stimuli to be a permanent part of my personality and was happy to see it greatly reduced. I got tired of mentioning it and submitting my husband (and others!) to my exaggerated behavior. I did not need a support group to help me deal with it. Surgery was not helpful at all in reducing it. Specific, repetitive exercises helped - a lot.

I tend to be oversensitive to sounds and bright lights (and I also have the sun sneeze reflex). I hadn’t heard that being easily startled was a CM symptom so that is interesting to know.

This happens to me too, I also didn’t know it was a chiari thing. It makes a lot of sense now. I jump over the silliest things. I was walking around the corner of a grocery store with a friend to get back to the car and there was a cat sitting by a bench against the building. I clearly saw it before it started to move, but I guess it happened so fast and I made the ugliest screaming noise anyone could make. My friend laughed so hard but I was dumbfounded because I knew it was there and there was no reason to scream or be started. Everyone at work thinks it’s funny how jumpy I am, but almost anything and everything will make me jump.

Hey, Tina! Wow. Do I ever know what it’s like to have family make fun of irrepressible outbursts! What’s really hard is that for decades before I got Chiari symptoms, my family knew me as an extremely easy-going, laid back, unflappable personality. Then, Chiaris symptoms tanked me for 10+ years - turned me into a complete paralyzed, brain-dead vegetable. On the other side of my decompression surgery, I developed those unstoppable outbursts to noise - and even to any emotional stimulation. Like, if I saw a kitten that was too cute, I’d just BOOM! Erupt in squeals and giggles. Couldn’t stop it for the life of me! People who know me post-surgery think nothing of it. They just think that’s me. However - family who knew my laid-back self now make fun of me to no end!!! I recall sharing this personality quirk to my neuro-doc - the compulsive behaviors - and he said if it bothered me too much, I could take Tegretol to smother it. However, Tegretol is a strong med - and not really necessary. It’s a choice. Personally, I’d rather NOT do a drug if I don’t have to.

Isn’t it nice to know why you react like that. When it use to happen to me I thought I was getting Alzheimer’s, since my father died from it. It’s a symptom of the spinal cord compression. Tina from WI

I just remembered that I do a huge gasp when I think a child is going to fall, a cup or object. And many times nothing falls, but my brain thinks it’s going to, so I over react. Tina

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