What is a cerebrospinal fluid leak?

A cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak happens when brain fluid leaks through the coverings of the nervous system. This fluid may drain from the ear or the nose, depending on where the skull bone is damaged, and can cause headaches and other symptoms.

CSF leaks can also happen after an epidural or a lumbar puncture (spinal tap), or because of a skull base tumor, with the fluid draining into the subcutaneous tissue and, in turn, not visible to the patient.

CSF leaks can occur spontaneously for unknown reasons, or because of trauma to the head, brain or spine.

Patients with high CSF pressure causing hydrocephalus, an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid, may be at an increased risk of developing CSF leaks.

Northwestern Medicine offers highly specialized care for patients with spinal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks at the Spinal CSF Leak Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Your multidisciplinary care team includes specialists in:

  • Neurology
  • Neurosurgery
  • Neuroradiology

These specialists are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of spinal CSF leaks.

Appointments and Referrals

To speak directly to a member of the Spinal CSF Leak Program team, please call 312.926.3185.