Cerebrospinal fluid leaks are uncommon, affecting around 1 in 20,000 people, though this number is thought to be an underestimate. Because they’re rare and often have non-specific symptoms, it’s not unusual for them to go undiagnosed for a prolonged period. This puts patients at risk of developing potentially severe or even life-threatening complications.
Cerebrospinal fluid, sometimes called “CSF,” is a clear, colorless liquid that circulates in and around the brain and spinal cord. It protects the brain and spinal cord by cushioning them from sudden impact or injury, regulates the temperature of the brain and spinal nerves, and assists in providing nutrients and removing waste from the brain and nerve cells.
Cerebrospinal fluid is constantly being made and replaced and is essential for the central nervous system's protection, health, and overall functioning. Serious complications are possible when the flow of cerebrospinal fluid is disrupted, such as in the case of a cerebrospinal fluid leak.
A cerebrospinal fluid leak happens when there’s a small tear in the dura – the lining of the spinal cord and brain. A traumatic injury can cause these membrane tears, excessive pressure in the head (due to illness or injury), as a result of a connective tissue disorder, or after a surgical procedure or other medical intervention. They can also happen spontaneously with no identifiable cause. The average age for developing a spontaneous leak is 42, but it can occur at any age, even among children.
Cerebrospinal fluid leaks can occur in the spine (spinal CSF leak) or around the brain (cranial CSF leak). When fluid leaks out, the volume and pressure of fluid in the skull drops, which causes the brain to slump inside the skull. This can cause a variety of symptoms. The most common symptom of a spinal leak is headache, while cranial leaks can cause symptoms such as fluid leaking from the nose or ear or a salty, metallic taste in the mouth. When a CSF leak of any type occurs, nausea, neck pain, ringing in the ears, and loss of taste or smell are possible. A leak can also increase the risk of brain trauma due to the loss of the fluid cushion.
When a cerebrospinal fluid leak is detected, it must be evaluated and treated immediately. If left untreated, potentially deadly complications are possible. In severe cases, things like meningitis, tension pneumocephalus (air in the space around the brain), seizures, and brain damage are possible.
Some cerebrospinal fluid leaks can heal on their own with conservative treatments, such as bed rest. Many leaks require treatment with something called an “epidural blood patch” to plug the hole and allow it to heal, and sometimes surgery is required to repair the tear in the dura.
When identified and treated promptly, cerebrospinal fluid leaks typically don’t have any long-term symptoms or complications. However, if treatment is delayed due to a misdiagnosis or because symptoms were downplayed or ignored, then severe complications are possible.
When fluid levels drop, and the pressure in the brain is reduced for a prolonged period, it can result in an “orthostatic headache,” which is a severe headache caused by standing. This can be very disabling for the victim and make it difficult to do much of anything. Ultimately, this reduced cranial pressure can result in paralysis, dementia, and coma.
Thankfully, these conditions can often be reversed once the source of the leak is identified and repaired, but the pain and suffering endured by the victim can be severe. If the leak is not diagnosed, identified, and treated in time, then severe infection and death are possible.
If you or a loved one have suffered severe complications due to a cerebrospinal fluid leak, then you know the importance of a prompt diagnosis. Suppose your symptoms were ignored by your healthcare provider or were misdiagnosed. In that case, you may be entitled to compensation for your lost wages, medical bills, and any pain and suffering from that healthcare provider’s negligence.
At Ross Feller Casey, we understand how painful, disabling, and frightening a cerebrospinal fluid leak can be. Our team of experienced medical malpractice lawyers and Ivy League-trained doctors will look through your medical records and health history to determine whether another competent healthcare provider would have detected the leak earlier and spared you the pain you’ve endured for so long.
Contact us today for a free consultation. There’s no fee unless you win, so don’t delay.
Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.