CSF Venous Fistulas in Spontaneous Intracranial Hypotension: Imaging Characteristics on Dynamic and CT Myelography

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2017 Dec;209(6):1360-1366. doi: 10.2214/AJR.17.18351. Epub 2017 Oct 12.


Objective: The objective of this study is to describe the anatomic and imaging features of CSF venous fistulas, which are a recently reported cause of spontaneous intracranial hypotension (SIH).

Materials and methods: We retrospectively reviewed the records of patients with SIH caused by CSF venous fistulas who received treatment at our institution. The anatomic details of each fistula were recorded. Attenuation of the veins involved by the fistula was compared with that of adjacent control veins on CT myelography (CTM). Visibility of the CSF venous fistula on CTM and a modified conventional myelography technique we refer to as dynamic myelography was also compared.

Results: Twenty-two cases of CSF venous fistula were identified. The fistulas were located between T4 and L1. Ninety percent occurred without a concurrent epidural CSF leak. In most cases (82%), the CSF venous fistula originated from a nerve root sleeve diverticulum. On CTM, the abnormal veins associated with the CSF venous fistula were seen in a paravertebral location in 45% of cases, centrally within the epidural venous plexus in 32%, and lateral to the spine in 23%. Differences in attenuation between the fistula veins and the control veins was highly statistically significant (p < 0.0001), with a threshold of 70 HU perfectly discriminating fistulas from normal veins in our series. When both CTM and dynamic myelography were performed, the fistula was identified on both modalities in 88% of cases.

Conclusion: CSF venous fistulas are an important cause of SIH that can be detected on both CTM and dynamic myelograph y and may occur without an epidural CSF leak. Familiarity with the imaging characteristics of these lesions is critical to providing appropriate treatment to patients with SIH.

Keywords: CSF hypovolemia; CSF leak; CSF venous fistula; myelography; spontaneous intracranial hypertension.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak / complications
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak / diagnostic imaging*
  • Contrast Media
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hypotension / diagnostic imaging*
  • Intracranial Hypotension / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myelography / methods*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*
  • Vascular Fistula / complications
  • Vascular Fistula / diagnostic imaging*


  • Contrast Media