Trauma to your spine or your skull can cause a leak of cerebrospinal fluid. CSF comes from four areas within your brain called the ventricles. Its purpose is to remove wastes and deliver nutrients to your central nervous system. It also provides cushioning, support and protection to the spinal cord and the brain.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, connective tissue called the dura mater holds the cerebrospinal fluid in place. A tear to the dura mater, such as might occur due to a traumatic injury, can cause the CSF to leak out.

Where do CSF leaks occur?

A leak of cerebrospinal fluid due to tearing of the dura mater can occur at any point along the spinal column. A cranial CSF leak can occur within the skull itself.

What complications can occur due to CSF leaks?

Cerebrospinal fluid helps to buoy your brain up within the skull much the same way that the water in a swimming pool supports your body and allows you to float. When the volume of CSF decreases due to a leak, this can cause sagging of your brain. A cranial CSF leak can also put you at risk for meningitis, which is inflammation of the dura mater and other connective tissues surrounding the brain.

What are the symptoms of CSF leaks?

The sagging of the brain due to decreased CSF volume can cause a severe headache. This tends to get better when lying down and worse when standing up. You may also experience nausea or vomiting, neck pain and stiffness, sensitivity to sound or light, vision or hearing changes and/or balance issues.