A cisternogram scan is a diagnostic test to evaluate how cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows around your brain or spine. You might need the test if your healthcare provider suspects you have a CSF leak or a buildup of CSF. A cisternogram requires a lumbar puncture to inject radioactive material into your spine.
A cisternogram scan is a diagnostic procedure that evaluates how cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows around your brain and spinal cord. This protective fluid:
Cisternography is a type of nuclear medicine imaging. That’s why providers also call this scan a radionuclide cisternogram. During this test, you receive an injection of radioactive material in your spine. Radioactive substances allow certain body parts or functions to show up better on imaging scans. Your healthcare provider can see how the CSF flows around your brain and spinal cord.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Your healthcare provider may order a cisternogram if they think you have a CSF leak (too little pressure on your brain or spine) or a buildup of CSF (too much pressure on your brain or spine). Symptoms of either can include:
Most people don’t need to do anything to prepare for a cisternogram. In some cases, your healthcare provider may give you special instructions about eating or drinking before the procedure. You should plan to have someone drive you home after your test.
It’s important to tell your healthcare provider about:
The first step of a cisternogram is a spinal tap (lumbar puncture):
After the lumbar puncture, you lay very still for about an hour while the radioactive substance moves through your CSF. Between one and six hours after the lumbar puncture, your healthcare provider performs imaging scans of your spine. They use a special camera that detects radioactive material. A CT scan or MRI creates the images.
You can go home after your imaging scan but will need to return 24 hours later for another imaging scan. It can take a full day for the radioactive substance to reach all the cavities in your brain. Some people also get scans 48 and 72 hours after the procedure. You don’t need additional lumbar punctures before each imaging scan.
You might feel some stinging or discomfort during the injection of local anesthetic. When the needle goes into your spine, you may notice some pressure but shouldn’t feel any pain. The imaging scans are painless.
The most common side effects after a cisternogram are pain where you received your injection and headache. Spinal headaches can occur after a lumbar puncture because CSF fluid may leak out of the injection site. This temporary leak causes the pressure in your brain to drop, which can lead to an intense headache. It should go away on its own within a few hours or days.
Complications after a cisternogram are rare, but potential risks include:
There is some radiation exposure during a cisternogram, but it’s a very low dose.
You may need to wait several days or a week after your last scan for results. Ask your healthcare provider when you can expect them.
If your cisternogram is normal, it means CSF is flowing around your brain and spinal cord normally. There are no leaks or blockages.
Abnormal results could indicate:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A cisternogram scan is a procedure to test how the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows around your brain and spinal cord. Your healthcare provider might order this test if they suspect you have a CSF leak or a buildup of CSF. A cisternogram requires a lumbar puncture and a series of imaging exams.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.