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How Can Neurologists Diagnose Spontaneous Intracranial Hypotension?


Examining and Treating the Patient

On physical examination, a neurologist can look for joint hypermobility. He or she should examine the eyes for spontaneous retinal venous pulsations indicative of normal CSF pressure. A neurologist also can put the patient in 5° of the Trendelenburg position for five to 10 minutes to see whether it improves the headache and other symptoms.

One of the first things that Dr. Friedman does when she suspects SIH is to refer the patient to the website of the Spinal CSF Leak Foundation ( She asks him or her to review the site and tell her whether the descriptions sound familiar.

The medical consensus is that the first-line diagnostic test is brain MRI with gadolinium enhancement. The diagnostic challenge, however, is that 30% of patients with SIH have normal results.

There is no consensus about the next step when the brain MRI is negative. CT with or without MR myelography is one possibility, and a T2-weighted spine MRI is another. Despite a thorough search, however, neurologists find no leak in about half of individuals with SIH.

Conservative treatment measures do not work well, according to Dr. Friedman. A reasonable strategy, even if a leak site has not been identified, is to treat with a high-volume epidural CT-guided targeted blood patch with fibrin sealant. “It gives relief about a third of the time,” according to Dr. Friedman.

—Bruce Jancin


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Spontaneous intracranial hypotension: a triple misnomer

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