Background: Spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak is a condition that previously has been considered idiopathic and classified as having "normal" intracranial pressure (ICP). We present clinical and radiographic evidence that indicates elevated ICP in this group. In addition, we review the pathophysiology and unique management issues in caring for patients with spontaneous CSF leak.
Methods: We present a retrospective review of medical records, imaging studies, ICP measurements, and surgical treatment of patients with spontaneous CSF leaks.
Results: Sixteen patients with spontaneous CSF leaks were surgically treated from 1996 to 2002. Ten patients underwent postoperative lumbar puncture with CSF pressure measurement during clinically indicated computed tomography cisternograms. Intracranial pressures were elevated in all 10 patients, with a mean of 26.5 cm H2O and a range of 17.3-34 cm H2O, (normal, 0-15 cm H2O). Demographically, 13/16 patients were women, all were middle-aged with a mean age of 49.6 years, and 15/16 patients were obese with a mean body mass index of 35.9 kg/m2. Radiographically, 15 patients had imaging of the sella turcica, 10 patients had completely empty sellas, and 5 patients had partially empty sellas. Surgical repair was 100% successful in leak cessation with a mean follow-up of 14.1 months.
Conclusion: Although the precise cause and mechanism of spontaneous CSF leaks is not fully understood, this study sheds light on important factors to consider. Patients with this condition have similar physical and radiographic findings such as middle-aged, female gender, obesity, and empty sella. Additional investigation is needed to determine the exact cause of the condition, its relationship to elevated ICPs, and if further medical or surgical treatments to correct the intracranial hypertension are warranted.