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Intracranial hypertension or pseudotumor cerebri

​Intracranial hypertension or high pressure in the brain can cause symptoms of a brain tumor.

One of the names for this disorder is pseudotumor cerebri. The term pseudo means false.

A thorough medical examination will reveal whether your symptoms are from a tumor or this disorder.

The Neurosciences team of Marshfield Clinic treats all diseases and conditions of the brain, spinal chord and the networks of sensory nerve cells called neurons.

What is intracranial hypertension or pseudotumor cerebri?

Intracranial hypertension or pseudotumor cerebri is a disorder related to high pressure in the brain. It causes signs and symptoms of a brain tumor. The term “pseudo” means false. 

The fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain is called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF. If too much fluid is produced or not enough is re-absorbed, the CSF can build up. This can cause symptoms like those of a brain tumor. 

Intracranial hypertension is classified into these categories:

  • Acute. Symptoms happen suddenly, often because of a head injury or stroke.

  • Chronic. Symptoms develop over time and may be caused by an underlying health problem.

  • Idiopathic. The cause isn’t known.

What causes intracranial hypertension?

Experts don't know why this condition develops. Some medicines have been linked to an increased risk of developing it. These include common drugs like birth control pills, certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, steroids, and some acne medicines.

What are the symptoms of intracranial hypertension?

The symptoms mimic those of a true brain tumor. The main sign is unusually high pressure inside the skull .

Other symptoms include:

  • Changes in vision (like double vision)

  • Vision loss

  • Feeling dizzy or nauseated

  • Vomiting

  • Neck stiffness

  • Trouble walking

  • Frequent headaches, often along with nausea or vomiting

  • Persistent ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

  • Forgetfulness

  • Depression

These symptoms may look like other medical problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. 

You may find that certain symptoms increase when you're exerting yourself. Exercise tends to raise the pressure in the skull.

Who is at risk for intracranial hypertension?

Anyone can develop intracranial hypertension. But, some people are at higher risk for the condition including:

  • Women of childbearing age (20 to 45 years)

  • Overweight people

  • People who have a thyroid condition or chronic kidney failure

How is intracranial hypertension diagnosed?

A physical exam and a few tests can help identify intracranial hypertension and rule out a real tumor.

A doctor may do the following tests:

  • Brain imaging such as MRI or CT scans

  • Spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture) to withdraw a sample of fluid from around the spine for testing

  • Exam to test vision and evaluate the back of your eye

Diagnosis involves ruling out other health problems including brain tumor.

How is intracranial hypertension treated?

Treatment can vary based on what is causing the fluid to build up inside the skull. Treatment options include:

  • Weight loss

  • Limiting fluids or salt in the diet

  • Surgical placement of shunt, or special tube, to redirect fluid from the brain and ease pressure

  • Undergoing a spinal tap to remove fluid and reduce pressure

  • Medicines, such as diuretics (water pills), which help the body to get rid of extra fluid

What are the complications of intracranial hypertension?

Untreated intracranial hypertension can result in permanent problems such as vision loss. Regular eye exams and checkups are recommended to treat any eye problems before they get worse.

It's also possible for symptoms to occur again even after treatment. Regular checkups to help monitor symptoms and screen for an underlying problem are important.

Can intracranial hypertension be prevented?

Since obesity has been linked to intracranial hypertension, following a healthy, low-fat diet and getting plenty of exercise may help reduce your risk for the condition.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Any changes in vision should be checked out by a doctor right away. Diagnosis and treatment can help prevent long-term complications such as vision loss.

Key points about intracranial hypertension

  • Intracranial hypertension is a disorder related to high pressure in the brain.Even though intracranial hypertension isn't a brain tumor, it can still cause serious health condition.

  • Seeing a doctor to promptly diagnose symptoms and begin treatment can help to prevent complications.

  • Following a healthy, low-fat diet and getting plenty of exercise may help reduce your risk for the condition.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

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If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Call: 1-866-520-2510

(Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

 Spinal Tap Procedure

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