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Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension
What is idiopathic intracranial
hypertension (IIH) is a disorder related to high pressure in the brain. It causes signs
and symptoms of a brain tumor. It is also sometimes called pseudotumor cerebri or benign
The fluid that surrounds the spinal
cord and brain is called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF. If too much fluid is made or not
enough is re-absorbed, the CSF can build up. This can cause symptoms like those of a
IIH is classified into these
- Acute. Symptoms happen suddenly, often because of a head injury or stroke.
- Chronic. Symptoms develop over time.
They may be caused by an underlying health problem.
- Idiopathic. The cause isn’t known.
What causes idiopathic intracranial hypertension?
Experts don't know why IIH occurs.
Some medicines have been linked to a higher risk of it. These include common medicines
- Birth control pills
- Certain antibiotics
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Some acne medicines
What are the symptoms of idiopathic intracranial
The symptoms of IIH mimic those of
a true brain tumor. The main sign is unusually high pressure inside the skull. This is
known as intracranial hypertension.
Other symptoms include:
- Changes in eyesight such as blurry
vision or double vision
- Vision loss, especially in the
- Feeling dizzy or nauseated
- Neck stiffness
- Trouble walking
- Frequent headaches, often along with nausea or vomiting
- Persistent ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
These symptoms may look like other
health 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 idiopathic intracranial hypertension?
Anyone can develop IIH. But some
people are at higher risk for it, such as:
- Women of childbearing age (20 to 45 years)
- Overweight people
- People who have a thyroid condition or chronic kidney failure
How is idiopathic intracranial hypertension diagnosed?
A physical exam and a few tests can
help identify IIH. Diagnosis involves ruling out other health problems, including a
brain tumor. You may need these tests:
- Brain imaging such as MRI or CT
- Spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to
withdraw a sample of fluid from around the spine for testing pressure
- Exam to test vision and check the back
of your eye
How is idiopathic intracranial hypertension treated?
Treatment can vary based on what is causing the fluid to build up inside the skull. Treatment options include:
- Losing weight, if needed
- Limiting fluids or salt in the
- Surgically putting a special tube
(shunt) in the brain to drain fluid and ease pressure
- Having a spinal tap done to remove
fluid and reduce pressure
- Taking medicines, such as water pills
(diuretics). These help the body to get rid of extra fluid.
- Having surgery on the optic nerve to ease pressure and save
What are possible complications of idiopathic intracranial
Untreated IIH can result in
permanent problems such as vision loss. Have regular eye exams and checkups treat any
eye problems before they get worse.
It's also possible for symptoms to
occur again even after treatment. It's important to get regular checkups to help monitor
symptoms and screen for an underlying problem.
Can idiopathic intracranial hypertension be prevented?
Obesity has been linked to IIH. So
eating 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 healthcare provider right away. Diagnosis and treatment can help
prevent long-term complications such as vision loss.
Key points about idiopathic intracranial hypertension
- Idiopathic intracranial hypertension
is a disorder related to high pressure in the brain.
- Even though IIH isn't a brain tumor,
it can still cause serious health problems.
- Seeing a healthcare provider right
away to promptly diagnose symptoms and begin treatment can help to prevent
- Eating a healthy, low-fat diet and
getting plenty of exercise may help reduce your risk for IIH.
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.
Online Medical Reviewer:
Joseph Campellone MD
Online Medical Reviewer:
Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed:
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