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What is spinal fluid leak?

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A spinal fluid leak occurs when cerebrospinal fluid escapes the brain and spinal cord, according to MedlinePlus. Whenever the protective membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, or dura, is torn or punctured, cerebrospinal fluid may leak and cause a drop in pressure in the brain or spinal cord. Head, brain and spinal surgeries can cause a CSF leak, as can head trauma, a spinal tap and the placement of epidural anesthesia tubes.

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A headache that worsens when sitting up and improves when lying down is a symptom of a CSF leak, reports MedlinePlus. The headache may also be accompanied by neck stiffness, light sensitivity and nausea. Other symptoms, though rare, include drainage of CSF from the nose or ear cavities. A CT scan of the head with contrast dye, CT myelogram, MRI or radioisotope test can determine if the patient suffers from CSF leakage.

Symptoms often improve on their own in the days following the injury and respond well to bed rest, says MedlinePlus. Increased fluid intake is beneficial, and beverages that contain caffeine may impede the leak in addition to relieving headaches. Pain medications are also effective. Cases that persist beyond a week following a lumbar puncture may require a blood patch to seal the puncture. Any sign of infection, such as fever, chills or mental changes, should be treated as a medical emergency. Most cases of CSF heal without any long-term side effects.

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