A to Z: Hypertension, Intracranial

A to Z: Hypertension, Intracranial

May also be called: Intracranial Hypertension; Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension; Benign Intracranial Hypertension; Pseudotumor Cerebri; Primary Intracranial Hypertension; Secondary Intracranial Hypertension

Intracranial hypertension (in-truh-KRAY-nee-ul hy-pur-TEN-shun) is a disorder in which the pressure of the fluid that surrounds the brain is too high.

More to Know

The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, that protects and cushions the brain. With intracranial hypertension, something causes the pressure of the CSF to increase. This can be a side effect of certain medications or diseases, but in most cases, there is no identifiable cause. Doctors aren’t exactly 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 increased pressure can cause painful headaches, nausea, vomiting, and ringing in the ears that pulses in time with someone’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 complications like blurred vision or double vision, and in some cases it can cause permanent blindness.

Intracranial hypertension can affect people of any age or gender, but is most common in obese women of childbearing age. It is diagnosed by measuring the pressure of the CSF during a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).

Treatment usually involves drugs that decrease the pressure by reducing the rate of CSF production. In rare cases, surgery may be done to relieve swelling of the optic nerves or help drain away excess CSF.

Keep in Mind

Intracranial hypertension is considered a medical emergency since it can cause blindness, but treatment usually improves or stabilizes the condition. Most people treated for intracranial hypertension end up with no loss of vision or minimal loss of vision, although the condition can recur after treatment. Maintaining a healthy weight may help to prevent a recurrence.

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