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J Neurosurg. 2013 Jan;118(1):149-54. doi: 10.3171/2012.9.JNS112368. Epub 2012 Oct 19.

Cerebrospinal fluid volume-depletion headaches in patients with traumatic brachial plexus injury.

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Department of Neurologic Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905, USA.



Patients with brachial plexus injury (BPI) present with a combination of motor weakness/paralysis, sensory deficits, and pain. Brachial plexus injury is generally not believed to be associated with headaches. However, CSF leaks may be associated with CSF volume-depletion (low-pressure) headaches and can occur in BPI secondary to nerve root avulsion. Only a few cases of headaches associated with BPI have been reported. It is unknown if headaches in patients with BPI occur so rarely, or if they are just unrecognized by physicians and/or patients in which the focus of attention is the affected limb. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of CSF volume-depletion headaches in patients with BPI.


All adult patients presenting at the Mayo brachial plexus clinic with traumatic BPI were asked to complete a questionnaire addressing the presence and quality of headaches following their injury. The patients' clinical, injury, and imaging characteristics were subsequently reviewed.


Between December 2008 and July 2010, 145 patients completed the questionnaire. Twenty-two patients reported new onset headaches occurring after their BPI. Eight of these patients experienced positional headaches, suggestive of CSF volume depletion. One of the patients with orthostatic headaches was excluded because the headaches immediately followed a lumbar puncture for a myelogram. Six of the other 7 patients with positional headaches had a clear preganglionic BPI. The available imaging studies in these 6 patients revealed evidence of CSF leaks: pseudomeningoceles (n = 5), CSF tracking into soft tissues (n = 3), CSF tracking into the intraspinal compartment (n = 3), CSF tracking into the pleural space (n = 2), and low-positioned cerebellar tonsils (n = 2).


In this retrospective study, 15.2% of patients (22 of 145 patients) with traumatic BPI suffered from a new-onset headache. Seven of these patients (4.8%) experienced postural headaches clearly suggestive of CSF volume depletion likely secondary to a CSF leak associated with the BPI, whereas the other 15 patients (10.3%) suffered headaches that may have represented a variant of CSF depletion headaches without a postural characteristic or a headache from another cause. These data suggest that CSF volume-depletion headaches occur in a significant proportion of patients with BPI and have been underrecognized and underreported.

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