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A to Z: Pseudotumor Cerebri

May also be called: Intracranial Hypertension; Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension; Benign Intracranial Hypertension, PTC Syndrome; Primary Intracranial Hypertension; Secondary Intracranial Hypertension

Pseudotumor cerebri (SOO-doh-too-mur SAIR-uh-bry) is a disorder in which the pressure is too high in the fluid that surrounds the brain. It can cause symptoms that are similar to those of a brain tumor, even though no tumor is present.

More to Know

The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, which protects and cushions the brain. With pseudotumor cerebri, something causes the pressure of the CSF to increase. This can be a side effect of certain medicines or diseases, but in most cases, there is no certain cause. Doctors aren't sure why the pressure increases, but it may have something to do with problems in the way CSF flows out of the brain and is absorbed into the bloodstream.

The high pressure causes extremely painful headaches, nausea, vomiting, and ringing in the ears that pulses in time with the person's heartbeat. The pressure also can cause swelling of the optic nerves, which transmit visual signals from the eyes to the brain. This can lead to problems like blurred vision or double vision, and in some cases it can cause permanent blindness.

Pseudotumor cerebri can affect people of any age and both sexes, but it is most common in obese women of childbearing age. It's diagnosed by measuring the pressure of the CSF during a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

Treatment usually involves medicines that lower the pressure by reducing how fast CSF is made. In rare cases, surgery may be done to relieve swelling of the optic nerves or help drain away excess CSF.

Keep in Mind

Pseudotumor cerebri is a medical emergency since it can cause blindness. Treatment usually is effective, and most people have no or minimal vision loss. Pseudotumor cerebri can return after treatment, but keeping a healthy weight may help to prevent this.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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