Common symptoms of a spinal fluid leak are head pain, nausea, and neck stiffness. The outlook for someone with a spinal fluid leak is typically good. It often heals itself with no long-term complications.

A spinal fluid leak can occur when the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord leaks out through a hole in the surrounding connective tissues. This can occur as a result of an injury, lumbar puncture, or an epidural. Sometimes, there is no known cause.

Symptoms typically resolve on their own in several days, but if they persist, the tear in the dura, or connective tissue, will need to be mended.

Read on to find out more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of spinal fluid leaks.

Within the body, the brain and the spinal cord sit in a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid also circulates through the ventricles of the brain and around the brain and spinal cord. It helps to:

  • flush out any contamination
  • transport nutrients
  • protect the brain and spinal cord by providing cushioning.

Connective tissues called meninges are all around the brain and spinal cord, and the CSF is held in these tissues. The meninges have multiple layers. The dura mater is the outermost layer and is a tougher tissue.

When there is a hole in this layer, CSF leaks out. This causes a variety of symptoms, and in very rare cases, can cause stroke, coma, and death.

The most common symptom of a CSF leak is head pain, but this is not always present. This head pain is often positional, which means it gets worse when one is upright and lessens when lying down. It’s also usually at the back of the head, but it can be anywhere and range in severity.

Other common symptoms can include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • neck pain or stiffness
  • feeling imbalanced
  • sensitivity to light or sound
  • hearing changes
  • pain between shoulder blades
  • arm numbness or pain
  • dizziness
  • changes in thinking, similar to brain fog

Less common symptoms that can occur include:

  • changes to vision or taste
  • fatigue
  • facial pain or numbness

Anyone is at risk for a CSF leak. These leaks can be caused by:

  • a head injury
  • head, brain, or spinal surgeries
  • a spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • tube placement for an epidural

If the connective tissues or dura mater are weak, this can predispose a person to CSF leaks.

People with connective tissue diseases may also be at higher risk of CSF leaks. Connective tissue diseases may be genetic or related to autoimmune disorders.

Sometimes, the cause cannot be found. This is otherwise referred to as a spontaneous CSF leak.

The most common cause is due to a lumbar puncture. Sometimes, chiropractic manipulation can cause CSF leaks.

Many times, doctors prescribe treatment based on results from a physical exam and reported symptoms.

If doctors feel they need to confirm a CSF leak to rule out other conditions, they may run several tests. These can include:

  • a CT scan of the head
  • a CT myelogram of the spine
  • MRI scan of the head or spine
  • radioisotope test to track the CSF leakage

Conservative treatments

Many of the symptoms resolve on their own within a few days, depending on the specific cause of the CSF leak. Often times, doctors may advise the following conservative measures to address symptoms:

  • complete bed rest
  • oral and intravenous hydration and caffeine, given separately
  • ginger candies or anti-nausea medications

More invasive treatments

If headache persists for more than a week, doctors may decide to patch the hole that is leaking the fluid with a blood patch. This is a blood clot used to seal the leak.

They may also prescribe antibiotics to address an infection.

Very rarely, serious complications may occur with a CSF leak, and emergency surgery is needed to sew together the dura.

Though a CSF leak is an unpleasant feeling, the outlook is typically good. For most people, the leak heals itself and there are no long-term complications.

If the CSF leak continues to occur, a doctor should evaluate this. A more serious issue, such as hydrocephalus, can cause recurring spontaneous CSF leaks.

A spinal fluid leak occurs when cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, leaks out of the dura. This can occur for a variety of reasons, including physical trauma or spinal epidural, but sometimes there is no known cause.

These leaks often resolve on their own for the vast majority of people. Treatments may include complete bed rest, hydration, hydration, and caffeine.

If a person develops an infection, a doctor may give them antibiotics. If symptoms persist, then they will repair the dura to prevent worsening of symptoms or any complications.