Syndrome of orthostatic headaches and diffuse pachymeningeal gadolinium enhancement

Mayo Clin Proc. 1997 May;72(5):400-13. doi: 10.4065/72.5.400.


Objective: To characterize clinical and imaging features, biopsy findings, etiologic factors, and outcome in the syndrome of intracranial hypotension, headaches, and diffuse pachymeningeal gadolinium enhancement on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Material and methods: We describe our experience with 26 consecutive patients with orthostatic headaches and diffuse pachymeningeal gadolinium enhancement, for all of whom clinical, imaging, and follow-up data were available. For 10 patients who had undergone meningeal biopsy, slide material was also reviewed.

Results: The 15 men and 11 women ranged from 24 to 76 years of age. All 26 patients had postural headaches; in 22 patients, the headaches were completely alleviated by recumbency. Nausea or emesis, neck pain, horizontal diplopia, changes in hearing, photophobia, upper limb pains or paresthesias, visual blurring, or dysgeusia was noted in some of the patients. Cardinal MRI features were diffuse pachymeningeal gadolinium enhancement (100%), subdural collections of fluid (69%), and evidence of descent of the brain (62%) that sometimes resembled type I Chiari malformation. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) opening pressures were 40 mm or less in only 46%. In three patients, CSF pressures were consistently no less than 90 and as high as 130 mm of water. A variable pleocytosis of 5 or more cells/mm3 was noted in 15 patients (more than 40 cells/mm3 in 4 patients). A variable increase in CSF protein was noted in at least one spinal tap in 23 patients. Six patients had overdraining CSF shunts; CSF leak was documented in another 11 patients. Shunt revision or ligation and surgical correction of the leak led to a resolution of the clinical and MRI abnormalities in all cases thus treated. Improvement occurred with epidural blood patch in four patients. Three of the 12 patients treated supportively have remained symptomatic. Histologically, a thin subdural zone of fibroblasts and thin-walled vessels was noted in an amorphous matrix. Two patients with prolonged symptoms had a more pronounced proliferative reaction.

Conclusion: The syndrome of low-pressure headaches and pachymeningeal gadolinium enhancement is being recognized with increasing frequency. The source of the CSF leak can be demonstrated in many patients. Meningeal abnormalities are likely attributable to decreased CSF volume and hydrostatic CSF pressure changes. The prognosis is typically good.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biopsy
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Pressure*
  • Contrast Media
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Gadolinium*
  • Headache / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Meninges / diagnostic imaging*
  • Middle Aged
  • Posture*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Syndrome


  • Contrast Media
  • Gadolinium