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What is Papilledema?

Papilledema describes swelling of the optic disc, the area where the optic nerve enters the eye, due to an increase in pressure within the skull. The optic nerve carries visual information from the eye to the brain, where the images are interpreted. Papilledema can result in permanent damage to the optic nerve and eventually blindness.

Symptoms of Papilledema

Most symptoms are caused by an increase in intracranial pressure and may include:

  • Headache that is often worse in the morning
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hearing vascular noises (pulsatile tinnitus)
  • Visual disturbances

Vision problems can be associated with many other health conditions. Contact a medical professional if you are having symptoms.

Treatments for Papilledema

Treatment for papilledema involves treating the underlying cause of increased intracranial pressure. Medications can be used to decrease pressure by helping to increase cerebrospinal fluid absorption or decrease production.

Steroids can reduce inflammation associated with intracranial pressure and may help stabilize vision loss.

Additional Information

Who gets papilledema?

An increase in intracranial pressure and subsequent papilledema can be caused by the following:

  • Brain tumor or abscess
  • Head injury
  • Bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage)
  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or its tissue coverings (meningitis)
  • Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri)

How is papilledema diagnosed?

The following tests may be used to diagnose papilledema and the underlying cause of increased intracranial pressure:

  • Eye examination
  • CT or MRI imaging
  • Spinal tap

Additional Resources

Medscape | Papilledema
Merck Manuals | Overview of Optic Nerve Disorders
Merck Manuals | Papilledema