Spontaneous spinal cerebrospinal fluid-venous fistulas in patients with orthostatic headaches and normal conventional brain and spine imaging

Wouter I. Schievink, Marcel Maya, Ravi S. Prasad, Vikram S. Wadhwa, Rachelle B. Cruz, Franklin G. Moser, Miriam Nuno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective: To determine the occurrence of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)-venous fistulas, a type of spinal CSF leak that cannot be detected with routine computerized tomography myelography, among patients with orthostatic headaches but normal brain and spine magnetic resonance imaging. Background: Spontaneous spinal CSF leaks cause orthostatic headaches but their detection may require sophisticated spinal imaging techniques. Methods: A prospective cohort study of patients with orthostatic headaches and normal brain and conventional spine imaging who underwent digital subtraction myelography (DSM) to look for CSF-venous fistulas, between May 2018 and May 2020, at a quaternary referral center for spontaneous intracranial hypotension. Results: The mean age of the 60 consecutive patients (46 women and 14 men) was 46 years (range, 13–83 years), who had been suffering from orthostatic headaches between 1 and 180 months (mean, 43 months). DSM demonstrated a spinal CSF-venous fistula in 6 (10.0%; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 3.8–20.5%) of the 60 patients. The mean age of these five women and one man was 50 years (range, 41–59 years). Spinal CSF-venous fistulas were identified in 6 (19.4%; 95% CI: 7.5–37.5%) of 31 patients with spinal meningeal diverticula but in none (0%; 95% CI: 0–11.9%) of the 29 patients without spinal meningeal diverticula (p = 0.024). All CSF-venous fistulas were located in the thoracic spine. All patients underwent uneventful surgical ligation of the fistula. Complete and sustained resolution of symptoms was obtained in five patients, while in one patient, partial recurrence of symptoms was noted 3 months postoperatively. Conclusion: Concerns about a spinal CSF leak should not be dismissed in patients suffering from orthostatic headaches when conventional imaging turns out to be normal, even though the yield of identifying a CSF-venous fistula is low.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-391
Number of pages5
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • cerebrospinal fluid-venous fistula
  • orthostatic headache
  • spontaneous intracranial hypotension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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