Decreased Incidence of CSF Leaks after Skull Base Fractures in the 21st Century: An Institutional Report

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Objectives Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaks are a possible complication in patients with skull base fractures (SBFs). The widely cited incidence of CSF leaks is 10 to 30% in SBF patients; however, this estimate is based only on a few outdated studies. A recent report found CSF leaks in <2% SBF patients, suggesting the incidence may be lower now. To investigate this, we report here our institutional series. Design This study is a retrospective chart review. Setting The study was conducted at two major academic medical centers (2000-2018). Participants Adult patients with SBF were included in this study. Main Outcome Measures Variables included age, gender, CSF leak within 90 days, management regimen, meningitis within 90 days, and 1-year mortality. Results Among 4,944 patients with SBF, 199 (4%) developed a CSF leak. SBF incidence was positively correlated with year of clinical presentation (r -squared 0.78, p < 0.001). Among CSF leaks, 42% were conservatively managed, 52% were treated with lumbar drain, and 7% required surgical repair. Meningitis developed in 28% CSF leak patients. The 1-year mortality for all SBF patients was 11%, for patients with CSF leaks was 12%, and for patients with meningitis was 16%. Conclusion In the largest institutional review of SBF patients in the 21st century, we found CSF leak incidence to be 4%. This is lower than the widely cited range of 10 to 30%. Nevertheless, morbidity and mortality associated with this complication remains clinically significant, and SBF patients should continue to be monitored for CSF leaks. We provide here our institutional treatment algorithm for these patients that may help to inform the treatment strategy at other institutions.

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