Spontaneous intracranial hypotension

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2001 Jun;5(3):284-91. doi: 10.1007/s11916-001-0045-7.


Spontaneous intracranial hypotension (SIH) is typically manifested by orthostatic headaches that may be associated with one or more of several other symptoms, including pain or stiffness of the neck, nausea, emesis, horizontal diplopia, dizziness, change in hearing, visual blurring or visual field cuts, photophobia, interscapular pain, and occasionally face numbness or weakness or radicular upper-limb symptoms. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressures, by definition, are quite low. SIH almost invariably results from a spontaneous CSF leak. Only very infrequently is this leak at the skull base (cribriform plate). In the overwhelming majority of patients, the leak is at the level of the spine, particularly the thoracic spine and cervicothoracic junction. Sometimes, documented leaks and typical clinical and imaging findings of SIH are associated with CSF pressures that are consistently within limits of normal. Magnetic resonance imaging of the head typically shows diffuse pachymeningeal gadolinium enhancement, often with imaging evidence of sinking of the brain, and less frequently with subdural fluid collections, engorged cerebral venous sinuses, enlarged pituitary gland, or decreased size of the ventricles. Radioisotope cisternography typically shows absence of activity over the cerebral convexities, even at 24 or 48 hours, and early appearance of activity in the kidneys and urinary bladder, and may sometimes reveal the level of the leak. Although various treatment modalities have been implemented, epidural blood patch is probably the treatment of choice in patients who have failed an initial trial of conservative management. When adequate trials of epidural blood patches fail, surgery can offer encouraging results in selected cases in which the site of the leak has been identified. Some of the spontaneous CSF leaks are related to weakness of the meningeal sac, likely in connection with a connective tissue abnormality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Pressure / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hypotension / pathology
  • Intracranial Hypotension / physiopathology*
  • Subdural Effusion / pathology
  • Subdural Effusion / physiopathology*
  • Subdural Space / physiopathology