What Happens When Spinal Fluid Leaks?

When spinal fluid leaks out, there is a drop in the pressure around the areas of the spinal cord and brain according to MedlinePlus. Fluid leakage can also cause symptoms, such as fluid drainage from the ears. Spinal fluid leaks may require the consideration of various treatments.

MedlinePlus maintains that the medical term for this clear and colorless fluid is cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF. A puncture in the dura, a thick membrane that surrounds the spinal cord and brain, can cause this fluid to leak out. Leakage can occur as a result of surgical procedures, head traumas and lumbar punctures. In some cases, a spinal fluid leak can be spontaneous or have an unknown cause.

Mount Sinai Hospital indicates that after a CSF leak, a person can experience symptoms that include fluid drainage from the nose as well as the ears, nausea, blurred vision and neck stiffness. However, a main symptom is a headache that is more severe in a sitting or an upright position, which is alleviated by lying down.

Johns Hopkins Medicine advises that diagnosing a CSF leak can involve the use of different tests, such as a head or spine MRI, CT scan and a radioisotope test. Another possible test according to Johns Hopkins Medicine is a nasal fluid analysis to detect the presence of the protein beta-2 transferrin.

According to the Yale School of Medicine, most CSF leaks tend to heal on their own, requiring a few days of bed rest and possible pain medication for headache symptoms. However, if CSF leaks do not heal, then other treatment options, such as a lumbar drain or surgery to repair the damage, may be necessary.

Mount Sinai Hospital claims that some complications or risks of CSF leaks include meningitis and pneumocephalus. While meningitis is a bacterial infection, pneumocephalus is an intracranial buildup of air; both of these medical conditions can be life-threatening.