Cerebrospinal fluid fistula is an unfortunate, yet well-recognized, complication of basilar skull fracture, skull base surgery, and neurotologic procedures. Treatment commonly involves the use of continuous lumbar drainage. A retrospective chart review of 32 consecutive patients who required placement of lumbar drain by the otorhinolaryngology and neurosurgical services from March 1988 through July 1991 was undertaken to assess possible complications. The complications found were readily separated into minor and major categories on the basis of the possibility of permanent morbidity or mortality. Minor complications, including subjective complaints of headache, nausea, vomiting, etc., were noted in 59% of patients. Major complications were observed in four of 32 patients (12.5%), including unilateral occlusion of the posterior cerebral artery and unilateral true vocal cord paralysis. Alleviation of all complications was achieved by cessation of lumbar drainage. These cases are presented with discussion of pathogenesis. These findings demonstrate the possibility of potentially serious complications that mandate close monitoring of patients who require continuous lumbar drainage.
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