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HomeHealth articlespost-lp intracranial hypotensionWhat Is Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension?

Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Post-LP intracranial hypotension is a rare but serious complication after a lumbar puncture procedure. Read this article below to know more about it.

Written by

Dr. Vineetha. V

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Published At March 9, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 9, 2023

Introduction:

A lumbar puncture (LP), otherwise known as a spinal tap, is a medical procedure used to obtain a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) sample for diagnostic purposes. A clear fluid called cerebrospinal fluid surrounds the brain and spinal cord and provides cushioning and protection to these structures. CSF delivers nutrients to the brain and eliminates wastes from the brain. It is used to diagnose various conditions, including meningitis, encephalitis, multiple sclerosis, and some forms of cancer. It also helps to measure the CSF pressure, detect blood in the CSF, and deliver medications directly into the spinal canal.

What Is Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension?

Post-LP intracranial hypotension is a condition that occurs when cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks out of the spinal canal following a lumbar puncture, causing low pressure in the brain and spinal cord. This low pressure can result in severe and disabling symptoms, including headaches, neck stiffness, dizziness, visual disturbances, and even loss of consciousness.

What Are the Causes of Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension?

A leak in the dura mater (the outer layer of the spinal cord and brain) causes post-LP intracranial hypotension. Dura mater is punctured during a lumbar puncture procedure, and if the puncture is too large or the hole is not sealed properly, CSF can leak out, causing a pressure drop.

Other reasons for persistent intracranial hypotension include:

  • Lumbar Drain Placement: It involves inserting a thin, flexible tube through the lower back into the spinal canal to drain cerebrospinal fluid for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes.

  • Epidural Steroid Injections: A common treatment for back pain involves injecting a corticosteroid medication into the epidural space. Epidural space is the area surrounding the spinal cord (between the spinal cord and the vertebral canal).

  • Epidural Catheter Placement: This procedure involves inserting a small, flexible tube into the epidural space to deliver pain medication or anesthesia to a specific body part.

Multiple factors that increase the risks of post-LP intracranial hypotension include:

  • Multiple punctures or unsuccessful attempts at lumbar puncture.

  • Younger age.

  • Female gender.

  • Being thin or having a low body mass index (BMI).

What Are the Symptoms of Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension?

Symptoms of post-LP intracranial hypotension can vary from person to person, and severity can range from mild to severe. The most common symptom is a headache, usually within a few days of the procedure, and can be severe and persistent. The headache is typically described as a dull, throbbing pain. It worsens when sitting or standing and improves when lying down. Other symptoms of post-LP intracranial hypotension can include the following:

  • Neck and shoulder stiffness.

  • Dizziness.

  • Vertigo in some cases. It is a spinning feeling even when the person is static.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Auditory disturbances like hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

  • Sensitivity to light or sound.

  • Visual disturbances, such as blurred vision or double vision. Photophobia (extreme eye discomfort in bright light)

  • Loss of consciousness.

How Can Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension Be Diagnosed?

Post-LP intracranial hypotension can be diagnosed with the help of medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests. The steps for diagnosis are the following:

  • History Taking: The doctor will inquire about the symptoms that the patient is experiencing and the recent history of lumbar puncture.

  • Physical Examination: The doctor may look for signs of headaches, such as pain behind the eyes or sensitivity to light. They may also examine the neck for stiffness or tenderness, which indicates a cerebrospinal fluid leak.

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) Scan: It is performed to confirm the diagnosis and locate the CSF leak's site. MRI may show characteristic changes, such as brain sagging, subdural fluid collections, and enlargement of veins.

  • Standard or Dynamic CT (Computed Tomography): A variant of imaging study that uses X-rays to get images of the anatomy. It can show changes in the size and shape of the brain and spinal cord that are associated with intracranial hypotension.

  • Digital Subtraction: This technique enhances the images obtained from CT scans. It involves comparing images taken before and after a contrast dye is injected into the body. The technique can highlight areas of reduced blood flow, indicating intracranial hypotension.

  • Intrathecal Gadolinium-Enhanced MR (Magnetic Resonance) Myelography: A specialized imaging test uses a contrast dye injected into the spinal canal to trace the pathway of fluid leakage. This dye highlights the cerebrospinal fluid and shows areas where the cerebrospinal fluid is leaking from the spinal canal, which can cause intracranial hypotension.

What Is the Treatment of Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension?

Treatment for post-LP intracranial hypotension usually involves conservative measures and may include:

  • Bed Rest: Lying flat for some time can help to reduce symptoms by allowing the leak to seal and the CSF pressure to increase.

  • Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain medications, such as Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen, may be recommended to help relieve the headache.

  • Epidural Blood Patch: A blood patch procedure may be recommended if conservative measures fail. During this procedure, a small amount of the patient's blood is taken from the patient's arm and injected into the epidural space to seal the leak and increase the CSF pressure. The procedure may also use fibrin sealant and can be specifically aimed at certain spine levels. This safe and effective procedure can provide rapid relief of symptoms.

  • Surgical Repair: Surgical repair of the dural defect may be necessary if conservative measures and blood patches fail in rare cases.

What Is the Prognosis of Post-LP Intracranial Hypotension?

The prognosis depends on the severity and the underlying cause of post-lumbar puncture intracranial hypotension. Usually, the symptoms resolve within a few days to weeks with conservative management. However, in some cases, the symptoms may persist for several weeks or even months, requiring more aggressive treatment such as epidural blood patching or fibrin glue injection. The overall prognosis of this condition is good, and most patients recover without any long-term complications.

Conclusion:

Imaging studies may not always detect a CSF leak, particularly if it is small or intermittent. Careful evaluation of the patient's symptoms and medical history is important to detect this condition. The risk of developing post-LP intracranial hypotension can be minimized by correctly performing the lumbar puncture. If a person experiences symptoms of post-LP intracranial hypotension after a lumbar puncture, consult healthcare professionals as early as possible for a proper evaluation and appropriate treatment.

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Dr. Abhishek Juneja
Dr. Abhishek Juneja

Neurology

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