Cerebral Spinal Fluid Leak
You have been in an accident and now the doctors are telling you that you have a cerebral spinal
fluid leak. You are probably wondering what this is and what it means to you. Let’s start with
Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is a clear, colorless fluid that flows
throughout your brain and spinal cord. The purpose is to protect your
nervous system. CSF is contained in a closed space that is not
exposed to the outside world.
A CSF leak occurs when there is an opening in the compartment that
contains CSF. The CSF is exposed to the outside world. The impact
of the accident caused bones to break in the skull, allowing the CSF to
Signs and Symptoms: clear or blood-tinged drainage from the nose,
the ears, from a scalp wound, and/or a salty taste in the mouth.
Tests You May Need
y The fluid draining from your nose, ears, or scalp may be tested to see if it is CSF.
y X-rays of your skull.
y CT scan of your head.
y MRI of your head.
Treatment: Your treatment plan will be created just for you. You will receive careful
instructions and medicines that may include:
y Keeping the head of your bed high to help with draining.
y Medicines to decrease the amount of CSF.
y Stool softeners to decrease straining. Straining can increase the pressure in your brain.
y Careful watching by the nursing staff.
y Screening with medical devices.
y You may also need a drainage tube placed into your head to control the leak.
Complications: As with many injuries, there are some risks. By following your treatment plan
you can help prevent these complications.
y Meningitis is an infection of the protective covering of the brain and spinal cord.
y Encephalitis is a swelling of the brain, often caused by meningitis.
y Brain abscess is a pocket of pus in the brain. See HFFY # 6170 (Brain Abscess).
When to call your doctor
• You notice a salty or metallic taste in your mouth
• Clear liquid draining from your ears or nose
• Stiff or painful neck
• Nausea or vomiting
Important Phone Numbers
Neurosurgery Clinic – (608)263-7502
ENT Clinic – (608)263-6190
After hours, this phone number will reach the paging operator. Ask for the neurosurgery or ENT
resident on call. Give your name and phone number with the area code. The doctor will call you
If you live outside the area, please call 1-800-323-8942.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©4/2014. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6928