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Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

What is Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension?

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension is a disorder in which the fluid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) accumulates abnormally for an unknown reason, causing increased pressure within the skull.

Because the symptoms of idiopathic intracranial hypertension can mimic those of a brain tumor, the disorder is also known as pseudotumor cerebri, which means “false brain tumor.” The increased pressure can cause swelling of the optic nerve and subsequent vision loss.

Symptoms of Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

Symptoms of idiopathic intracranial hypertension may include:

  • Headaches
  • Pulsating sounds within the head (pulsatile tinnitus)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred, dimmed, or doubled vision
  • Seeing light flashes (photopsia)
  • Brief episodes of blindness, affecting one or both eyes (visual obscurations)
  • Neck, shoulder, or back pain
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression

Symptoms of idiopathic intracranial hypertension can resemble those of a brain tumor or another medical condition. Contact a medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms.

Treatments for Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

The first line of treatment for idiopathic intracranial hypertension is weight loss. This is often curative, but medications may be used to lower pressure during the weight loss process.

In rare cases, surgery may be needed. Surgical interventions, such as the placement of a shunt, are reserved for people who have rapid vision loss or whose pressure/headaches are refractory to medications and weight loss.

Additional Information

How common is idiopathic intracranial hypertension?

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension is rare. It is estimated to affect one in every 100,000 people in the general population.

Who gets idiopathic intracranial hypertension?

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension affects males and females of all ages, but it is more common in women between the ages of 20 and 50. It is also more prevalent among people who are overweight.

How is idiopathic intracranial hypertension diagnosed?

In addition to performing a physical examination, your doctor may request the following tests to diagnose idiopathic intracranial hypertension:

  • Eye examination
  • Imaging tests, such as an MRI scan or a CT scan
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)

Additional Support + Resources

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Group 12
It is estimated to affect one in every 100,000 people in the general population.
Medically Reviewed by Kerry Knievel, DO, FAHS on January 13, 2020