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CSF leak

Contents of this page:


Cerebrospinal fluid leak
Cerebrospinal fluid leak

Alternative Names    Return to top

Intracranial hypotension

Definition    Return to top

A CSF leak is an escape of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Causes    Return to top

The dura is the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and contains the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF can leak from any hole or tear in the dura.

Causes of a tear in the dura include:

Sometimes there is no cause.

Symptoms    Return to top

Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Diagnosis is usually based on your history of injury, surgery, or lumbar puncture.

Tests may include:

Treatment    Return to top

Depending on the cause of the leak, many cases go away on their own after a few days. Complete bed rest for several days is usually recommended.

Headache may be treated with pain relievers and fluids. If the headache lasts longer than a week after a lumbar puncture, a procedure may be done to block the hole that may be leaking fluid. This is called a blood patch, because a blood clot can be used to clog the leak. In most cases, this makes symptoms go away. Rarely, surgery is needed to repair a tear in the dura and stop the headache.

If symptoms of infection occur (fever, chills, change in mental status), antibiotic therapy is needed.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

The outlook is usually good depending on the cause. Most cases heal by themselves with no lasting symptoms.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Complications may occur if the cause is surgery or trauma. Infections can cause serious complications, such as swelling of the brain.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if:

Prevention    Return to top

Measures such as wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle can help prevent head injuries that can lead to CSF leak.

References    Return to top

Heegaard WG, Biros MH. Head. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 38.

Update Date: 9/22/2008

Updated by: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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