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Rachel Hale

Headaches, nausea and misdiagnoses: A patient’s experience with a CSF leak

Ten years and multiple diagnoses later, a young woman finally found answers to her headaches, nausea, and sensory overload at Stanford.

Rachel Hale’s adolescent years were supposed to be spent hanging out with friends, playing the sports she loved, and blasting music from her favorite bands. Instead, she found herself unable to enjoy many of her favorite things due to constant headaches, nausea, dehydration, and sensory overload sensations that frequently kept her away from family, friends, and social activities.

That changed, however, when Hale, now in her mid-20s, came to Stanford to be treated by gastroenterologist Linda Nguyen, MD, as a Stanford Medicine news article explains. Her case caught the attention of Ian Carroll, MD, a headache specialist, who realized that Hale’s case was characteristic of a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak.

A CSF leak occurs when the covering that protects the brain and spinal cord and holds the fluid in place tears, allowing the fluid that protects those organs to escape. The diagnosis is often overlooked, Carroll said. In fact, his own daughter had a CSF leak that escaped detection.

To help, Hale received an epidural blood patch, where the patient’s own blood is injected to stop the leak. Soon after, Hale said she felt a major difference in her health.

In the video, shown above, Hale explained:

After the first procedure, I noticed my headaches were less frequent and the overall pain score had lowered. [I wanted] to spend time with people, and [I wanted] to be around people more. I have a big family, so the ability to hang out with them and catch up with them without so much sensory overload, so much headache, is huge.

The joy of knowing what was wrong and finally finding relief through treatment is immense, Hale said.

“The biggest challenge was not knowing what was wrong. Stanford’s ability to give me answers, that in itself, has been a huge impact on my life.”

Photo by Steve Fisch

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