Overview

Pseudotumor cerebri (SOO-doe-too-mur SER-uh-bry) occurs when the pressure inside your skull (intracranial pressure) increases for no obvious reason. It's also called idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

Symptoms mimic those of a brain tumor. The increased intracranial pressure can cause swelling of the optic nerve and result in vision loss. Medications often can reduce this pressure and the headache, but in some cases, surgery is necessary.

Pseudotumor cerebri can occur in children and adults, but it's most common in women of childbearing age who are obese.

Symptoms

Pseudotumor cerebri signs and symptoms might include:

  • Often severe headaches that might originate behind your eyes
  • A whooshing sound in your head that pulses with your heartbeat
  • Nausea, vomiting or dizziness
  • Vision loss
  • Brief episodes of blindness, lasting a few seconds and affecting one or both eyes
  • Difficulty seeing to the side
  • Double vision
  • Seeing light flashes
  • Neck, shoulder or back pain

Sometimes, symptoms that have resolved can recur months or years later.

Causes

The cause of pseudotumor cerebri is unknown. If a cause is determined, the condition is called secondary intracranial hypertension, rather than idiopathic.

Your brain and spinal cord are surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, which cushions these vital tissues from injury. This fluid is produced in the brain and eventually is absorbed into the bloodstream at a rate that usually allows the pressure in your brain to remain constant.

The increased intracranial pressure of pseudotumor cerebri might result from a problem in this absorption process.

Risk factors

The following factors have been associated with pseudotumor cerebri:

Obesity

Obese women of childbearing age are more likely to develop the disorder.

Medications

Substances linked to secondary intracranial hypertension include:

  • Growth hormone
  • Tetracycline
  • Too much vitamin A

Health problems

Conditions and diseases that have been linked to secondary intracranial hypertension include:

  • Addison's disease
  • Anemia
  • Blood-clotting disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Lupus
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Underactive parathyroid glands

Complications

For some people with pseudotumor cerebri, their vision continues to worsen, leading to blindness.

Sept. 11, 2019
  1. Pseudotumor cerebri information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/all-disorders/pseudotumor-cerebri-information-page. Accessed July 31, 2019.
  2. Lee AG, et al. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri): Clinical features and diagnosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed July 31, 2019.
  3. AskMayoExpert. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2019.
  4. Lee AG, et al. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri): Prognosis and treatment. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed July 31, 2019.
  5. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri). American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. https://aapos.org/search?executeSearch=true&SearchTerm=pseudotumor+cerebri&l=1. Accessed July 31, 2019.
  6. Ferri FF. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2020. Elsevier; 2019. https://www.clinicalkey.com. July 31, 2019.
  7. Eggenberger ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Aug. 28, 2019.

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