Pseudotumor cerebri develops when too much cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in your skull. The pressure can cause several symptoms, including vision loss. Women who are overweight, aged 20 to 44, are 20 times more likely to develop pseudotumor cerebri. Several treatments can help, including weight loss, medications, spinal taps and surgery.
Pseudotumor cerebri is a condition in your skull. For unknown reasons, too much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up in the skull and creates pressure.
The phrase “pseudotumor cerebri” translates to “false brain tumor” because the symptoms are similar. However, it doesn’t mean you have a tumor. It’s also called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, benign intracranial hypertension or intracranial venous hypertension.
If the condition isn’t treated, it can lead to visual impairment.
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Benign intracranial hypertension can develop in people of both sexes and all ages. For reasons that scientists don’t entirely understand, it’s much more common in women who are overweight of reproductive age.
The condition occurs in about 1 person in 100,000 of the general U.S. population. It’s 20 times more common in women who are 20 to 44 years old and weigh 20% more than their ideal body weight.
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounds and cushions your brain and spinal cord. It also delivers nutrients to your brain and removes waste from it. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri) occurs when your body produces too much CSF or doesn’t absorb enough of it back into the system. As CSF accumulates, pressure increases within your skull.
Scientists don’t understand what causes CSF to build up in the skull or why pseudotumor cerebri often affects people who are overweight. But, researchers have noted some other factors that might make people more likely to develop the condition:
The symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri may go unnoticed at first, but they usually worsen over time without treatment. These can include:
If a healthcare professional suspects you have pseudotumor cerebri, a diagnosis might include:
The goals of treatment for pseudotumor cerebri are to:
If left untreated, vision loss can be permanent. You should have frequent follow-up eye exams to monitor for any changes in your vision.
Your healthcare provider may recommend the following strategies to help reduce the pressure and relieve symptoms:
If those treatments aren’t adequate, you may need surgery to reduce pressure in your skull:
The best way to reduce the risk of pseudotumor cerebri is to maintain a healthy weight. The condition is 20 times more likely in people who are overweight.
If you’re taking any of the following medications that have been associated with this condition, your healthcare provider can help determine whether they’re necessary:
With treatment, weight loss and regular eye exams, many people don’t develop permanent vision loss.
Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri) recurs (returns) in about 10% to 20% of people. Even if treatment is successful, you should visit your healthcare provider and ophthalmologist for regular checkups.
One of the best things you can do to manage the condition is to lose extra body weight with diet and exercise. Sometimes, even a small incremental loss in weight can eliminate symptoms. You also might consider limiting salt, which can cause your body to retain fluid.
If you have pseudotumor cerebri, it’s essential to have regular checkups with your ophthalmologist. Eye exams can detect problems even before you notice vision loss.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Pseudotumor cerebri occurs when too much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) accumulates in your skull and creates pressure. Anyone can develop the condition, but it’s much more common in women who are overweight. If left untreated, this can cause vision loss. But weight loss and certain treatments can reduce the pressure in your skull and relieve symptoms.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/30/2022.
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