Spontaneous spinal CSF leaks are caused by abnormalities of the spinal dura mater. Although most cases are treated conservatively or with an epidural blood patch, some intractable cases require neurosurgical treatment. However, previous reports are limited to a small number of cases. Preoperative detection and localization of spinal dural defects are difficult, and surgical repair of these defects is technically challenging. The authors present the anatomical characteristics of dural defects and surgical techniques in treating spontaneous CSF leaks.
Among the consecutive patients who were diagnosed with spontaneous CSF leaks at the authors’ institution between 2010 and 2020, those who required neurosurgical treatment were included in the study. All patients’ clinical information, radiological studies, surgical notes, and outcomes were reviewed retrospectively. Outcomes of two different procedures in repairing dural defects were compared.
Among 77 patients diagnosed with spontaneous CSF leaks, 21 patients (15 men; mean age 57 years) underwent neurosurgery. Dural defects were detected by FIESTA MRI in 7 patients, by CT myelography in 12, by digital subtraction myelography in 1, and by dynamic CT myelography in 1. The spinal levels of the defects were localized at the cervicothoracic junction in 16 patients (76%) and thoracolumbar junction in 4 (19%). Intraoperative findings revealed that the dural defects were small, circumscribed longitudinal slits located at the ventral aspect of the dura mater. The median dural defect size was 5 × 2 mm. The presence of dural defects at the thoracolumbar junction was associated with manifestation of an altered mental status, which was an unusual manifestation of CSF leaks (p = 0.003). Eight patients were treated via the posterior transdural approach with watertight primary sutures of the ventral defects, and 13 were treated with muscle or fat grafting. Regardless of the two different procedures, postoperative MRI showed either complete disappearance or significant reduction of the extradural CSF collection. No patient experienced postoperative neurological deficits. Clinical symptoms improved or stabilized in 20 patients with a median follow-up of 12 months.
Dural defects in spontaneous CSF leaks were small, circumscribed longitudinal slits located ventral to the spinal cord at either the cervicothoracic or thoracolumbar junction. Muscle/fat grafting may be an alternative treatment to watertight primary sutures of ventral dural defects with a good outcome.