Intrathecal saline infusion in the treatment of obtundation associated with spontaneous intracranial hypotension: Technical case report

Devin K. Binder, William P. Dillon, Robert A. Fishman, Meic H. Schmidt, Joseph C. Watson, Alex B. Valadka, Warren R. Selman, Daniel F. Kelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE AND IMPORTANCE: Spontaneous intracranial hypotension is an increasingly recognized cause of postural headache. However, appropriate management of obtundation caused by intracranial hypotension is not well defined. CLINICAL PRESENTATION: A 43-year-old man presented with postural headache followed by rapid decline in mental status. Imaging findings were consistent with the diagnosis of spontaneous intracranial hypotension, with bilateral subdural hematomas, pachymeningeal enhancement, and caudal displacement of posterior fossa structures and optic chiasm. INTERVENTION: Despite treatment with lumbar epidural blood patch, worsening stupor necessitated intubation and mechanical ventilation. Contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomographic myelography of the spine failed to demonstrate the site of cerebrospinal fluid fistula. The enlarging subdural fluid collections were drained, and a ventriculostomy was performed. Postoperatively, the patient remained semicomatose. To restore intraspinal and intracranial pressures, intrathecal infusion of saline was initiated. After several hours of lumbar saline infusion, lumbar and intracranial pressures normalized, and the patient's stupor resolved rapidly. Repeat computed tomographic myelography accomplished via C1-C2 puncture demonstrated a large ventrolateral T1-T3 leak, which was treated successfully with a thoracic epidural blood patch. Follow-up magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated resolution of intracranial hypotension, and the patient was discharged in excellent condition. CONCLUSION: Spontaneous intracranial hypotension may cause a decline of mental status and require lumbar intrathecal saline infusion to arrest or reverse impending central (transtentorial) herniation. This case demonstrates the use of simultaneous monitoring of lumbar and intracranial pressures to appropriately titrate the infusion and document resolution of intracranial hypotension. Maneuvers aimed at sealing the cerebrospinal fluid fistula then can be performed in a less emergent fashion after the patient's mental status has stabilized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)830-837
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Blood patch
  • Cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • Intracranial hypotension
  • Intrathecal
  • Lumbar infusion
  • Obtundation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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