What is pseudotumor cerebri?
Pseudotumor cerebri is a disorder related to high pressure in the brain. It causes signs and symptoms of a brain tumor. The term “pseudo” means false. Pseudotumor cerebri is also called intracranial hypertension or benign intracranial hypertension.
The fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain is called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF. If too much fluid is produced or not enough is re-absorbed, the CSF can build up. This can cause symptoms like those of a brain tumor.
Pseudotumor cerebri is classified into these categories:
- Acute. Symptoms happen suddenly, often because of a head injury or stroke.
- Chronic. Symptoms develop over time and may be caused by an underlying health problem.
- Idiopathic. The cause isn’t known.
What causes pseudotumor cerebri?
Experts don't know why this condition develops. Some medicines have been linked to an increased risk of developing it. These include common drugs like birth control pills, certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, steroids, and some acne medicines.
What are the symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri?
The symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri mimic those of a true brain tumor. The main sign is unusually high pressure inside the skull, known as intracranial hypertension.
Other symptoms include:
- Changes in vision (like double vision)
- Vision loss
- Feeling dizzy or nauseated
- Neck stiffness
- Trouble walking
- Frequent headaches, often along with nausea or vomiting
- Persistent ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
These symptoms may look like other medical problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
You may find that certain symptoms increase when you're exerting yourself. Exercise tends to raise the pressure in the skull.
Who is at risk pseudotumor cerebri?
Anyone can develop pseudotumor cerebri. But, some people are at higher risk for the condition including:
- Women of childbearing age (20 to 45 years)
- Overweight people
- People who have a thyroid condition or chronic kidney failure
How is pseudotumor cerebri diagnosed?
A physical exam and a few tests can help identify pseudotumor cerebri and rule out a real tumor.
A doctor may do the following tests:
- Brain imaging such as MRI or CT scans
- Spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture) to withdraw a sample of fluid from around the spine for testing
- Exam to test vision and evaluate the back of your eye
Diagnosis involves ruling out other health problems including brain tumor.
How is pseudotumor cerebri treated?
Treatment can vary based on what is causing the fluid to build up inside the skull. Treatment options include:
- Weight loss
- Limiting fluids or salt in the diet
- Surgical placement of shunt, or special tube, to redirect fluid from the brain and ease pressure
- Undergoing a spinal tap to remove fluid and reduce pressure
- Medicines, such as diuretics (water pills), which help the body to get rid of extra fluid
What are the complications of pseudotumor cerebri?
Untreated pseudotumor cerebri can result in permanent problems such as vision loss. Regular eye exams and checkups are recommended to treat any eye problems before they get worse.
It's also possible for symptoms to occur again even after treatment. Regular checkups to help monitor symptoms and screen for an underlying problem are important.
Can pseudotumor cerebri be prevented?
Since obesity has been linked to pseudotumor cerebri, following a healthy, low-fat diet and getting plenty of exercise may help reduce your risk for the condition.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Any changes in vision should be checked out by a doctor right away. Diagnosis and treatment can help prevent long-term complications such as vision loss.
Key points about pseudotumor cerebri
- Pseudotumor cerebri is a disorder related to high pressure in the brain.
- Even though pseudotumor cerebri isn't a brain tumor, it can still cause serious health condition.
- Seeing a doctor to promptly diagnose symptoms and begin treatment can help to prevent complications.
- Following a healthy, low-fat diet and getting plenty of exercise may help reduce your risk for the condition.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.