Headaches caused by decreased intracranial pressure: diagnosis and management

Curr Opin Neurol. 2003 Jun;16(3):319-26. doi: 10.1097/01.wco.0000073933.19076.c0.


Purpose of review: More patients with spontaneous intracranial hypotension are now being diagnosed, and it is realized that most cases result from spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leaks. A broader clinical and imaging spectrum of the disorder is recognized. This paper reviews new insights into the variability of clinical manifestations, imaging features, etiological factors, anatomy of leaks, and implications of these in patient management.

Recent findings: Spontaneous intracranial hypotension should not be equated with post-lumbar puncture headaches. In a substantial minority of patients, headaches are not orthostatic and may mimic other types of headache. Additional diverse neurological manifestations may dominate the clinical picture and patients may occasionally have no headache at all. Reports on unusual presentations of the disorder continue to appear in the literature. Furthermore, additional imaging features of cerebrospinal fluid leaks are recognized. High-flow and slow-flow leaks may present diagnostic challenges, and require modification of diagnostic studies aimed at locating the site of the leak. Stigmata of connective tissue abnormality, especially abnormalities of fibrillin and elastin, are seen in a notable minority of patients, pointing to weakness of the dural sac as one of the etiological factors. After treatment of spontaneous intracranial hypotension, surgically or by epidural blood patch, a rebound and self-limiting intracranial hypertension may sometimes develop.

Summary: In the past decade, interest in spontaneous intracranial hypotension has been rekindled, with a substantial growth of knowledge on various aspects of the disorder. We are in the learning phase, and new information will probably appear in the future, with notable diagnostic and therapeutic implications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid*
  • Dura Mater / pathology
  • Headache / etiology*
  • Headache / pathology
  • Headache / physiopathology
  • Headache / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Pressure*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging