Definition

What is pseudotumor cerebri?

Pseudotumor cerebri is a condition in which the pressure around your brain increases, causing headaches and vision problems. The name means “false brain tumor” because its symptoms are similar to those caused by brain tumors. It’s also known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension. This condition is treatable, but it can return in some cases.

How common is pseudotumor cerebri?

Pseudotumor cerebri is most common in women between the ages of 20 and 50. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri?

The common symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri are:

  • Moderate to severe headaches that may originate behind your eyes and worsen with eye movement
  • Ringing in the ears that pulses in time with your heartbeat (pulsatile tinnitus)
  • Nausea, vomiting or dizziness
  • Blurred or dimmed vision
  • Brief episodes of blindness, lasting only a few seconds and affecting one or both eyes (visual obscurations)
  • Difficulty seeing to the side
  • Double vision (diplopia)
  • Seeing light flashes (photopsia)
  • Neck, shoulder or back pain

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes pseudotumor cerebri?

The exact cause of pseudotumor cerebri in most individuals is unknown, but it may be linked to an excess amount of cerebrospinal fluid within the bony confines of your skull.

Your brain and spinal cord are surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, which acts like a cushion to protect these vital tissues from injury. This fluid is produced in the brain and eventually is absorbed into the bloodstream. The increased intracranial pressure of pseudotumor cerebri may be a result of a problem in this absorption process.

In general, your intracranial pressure increases when the contents of your skull exceed its capacity. For example, a brain tumor generally increases your intracranial pressure because there’s no room for the tumor. The same thing happens if your brain swells or if you have too much cerebrospinal fluid.

Several studies indicate that many people with pseudotumor cerebri have a narrowing (stenosis) in two large sinuses in the brain (transverse sinuses). Studies are determining whether this is an effect or a cause of the condition.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for pseudotumor cerebri?

There are many risk factors for pseudotumor cerebri, such as:

  • Obesity has been associated with pseudotumor cerebri, which occurs in 1 to 2 people in 100,000. In women who are obese, about 4 to 21 in 100,000 develop the condition. Women under the age of 44 who are obese are more likely to develop the disorder.
  • Substances that have been linked to pseudotumor cerebri include:
    • Growth hormone
    • Tetracycline
    • Excess vitamin A
    • Other medications may be associated with pseudotumor cerebri, but further research is needed.
  • Health problems. The following conditions and diseases have been linked to pseudotumor cerebri:
    • Addison’s disease
    • Anemia
    • Behcet’s syndrome
    • Blood-clotting disorders
    • Lupus
    • Kidney disease
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome
    • Sleep apnea
    • Underactive parathyroid glands
    • Uremia

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is pseudotumor cerebri diagnosed?

Eye exam

Your doctor will check for papilledema, which is swelling of the optic nerve at the back of your eye. The increased pressure in the skull will be transmitted to the back of the eye. Your vision will also be tested to see if you have abnormal blind spots.

Imaging tests

Your doctor may perform a CT or MRI scan of your brain to look for signs of spinal fluid pressure. These scans can also be used to check for other conditions that could be causing your symptoms, such as tumors or blood clots.

A CT scan combines several X-rays to make a cross-sectional image of your brain. An MRI scan uses magnetic waves to produce a highly detailed image of your brain.

Spinal tap

Your doctor may also perform a spinal tap, or lumbar puncture, to measure the pressure of your spinal fluid. This involves placing a needle between two bones, or vertebrae, in your back and drawing a fluid sample for testing.

How is pseudotumor cerebri treated?

Medications

Medications can help control or reduce the symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri. Your doctor might prescribe the following:

  • Migraine medications can provide headache relief. These can include triptans like sumatriptan (Imitrex) and naratriptan (Amerge)
  • Glaucoma drugs, such as acetazolamide (Diamox), cause your brain to produce less cerebrospinal fluid. These drugs can cause fatigue, kidney stones, nausea, and a tingling sensation in your mouth, toes, or fingers.
  • Diuretics, such as furosemide (Lasix), make you urinate more often. This causes you to retain less fluid in your body, which helps ease the pressure in your skull. These may be used in combination with glaucoma drugs to make them more effective.

Surgery

Your doctor may recommend surgery if your vision becomes worse or if they need to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid.

  • Optic nerve sheath fenestration: Optic nerve sheath fenestration involves cutting the membrane around your optic nerve to let extra fluid out. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s successful at relieving symptoms more than 85 percent of the time.
  • Spinal fluid shunt placement: A spinal fluid shunt procedure involves placing a thin tube in your brain or lower spine to drain extra fluid. The excess fluid is shunted away, typically to the abdominal cavity. This procedure is usually done only in severe cases. According to the Mayo Clinic, it has a success rate of more than 80 percent.

Other forms of treatment

Other treatment methods include losing weight and having multiple spinal taps performed to relieve pressure.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage pseudotumor cerebri?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with pseudotumor cerebri:

Obesity dramatically increases a young woman’s risk of pseudotumor cerebri. In fact, even in women who aren’t obese a moderate amount of weight gain may increase the risk. Losing extra pounds and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce your chances of developing this potentially sight-stealing disorder.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: November 15, 2017 | Last Modified: November 15, 2017

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