Primary spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leaks and idiopathic intracranial hypertension

Mario A. Pérez, Omer Y. Bialer, Beau B. Bruce, Nancy J. Newman, Valérie Biousse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) is increasingly recognized as a cause of spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak in the otolarnygological and neurosurgical literature. The diagnosis of IIH in patients with spontaneous CSF leaks typically is made a few weeks after surgical repair of the leak when symptoms and signs of elevated intracranial pressure (ICP) appear. METHODS: Case reports and literature review. Two young obese women developed spontaneous CSF rhinorrhea related to an empty sella in one and a cribriform plate encephalocele in the other. Both patients underwent surgical repair of the CSF leak. A few weeks later, they developed chronic headaches and bilateral papilledema. Lumbar punctures showed elevated CSF opening pressures with normal CSF contents, with temporary improvement of headaches. A man with a 3-year history of untreated IIH developed spontaneous CSF rhinorrhea. He experienced improvement of his headaches and papilledema after a CSF shunting procedure, and the rhinorrhea resolved after endoscopic repair of the leak. RESULTS: These cases and the literature review confirm a definite association between IIH and spontaneous CSF leak based on: 1) similar demographics; 2) increased ICP in some patients with spontaneous CSF leak after leak repair; 3) higher rate of leak recurrence in patients with raised ICP; 4) patients with intracranial hypertension secondary to tumors may develop CSF leak, confirming that raised ICP from other causes than IIH can cause CSF leak. CONCLUSIONS: CSF leak occasionally may keep IIH patients symptom-free; however, classic symptoms and signs of intracranial hypertension may develop after a CSF leak is repaired, exposing these patients to a high risk of recurrence of the leak unless an ICP-lowering intervention is performed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-334
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuro-Ophthalmology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013
Externally publishedYes


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