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About Pseudotumor Cerebri Syndrome

Your brain and spinal cord are surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, which 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. If too much fluid is produced, or not enough is re-absorbed, the cerebrospinal fluid can build up and cause pressure within the skull. While the cause of pseudotumor cerebri syndrome is not known, the increased intracranial pressure of pseudotumor cerebri might result from a problem in this absorption process.

The increased intracranial pressure can cause swelling of the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss and sometimes blindness. Vision problems in pseudotumor cerebri evolve slowly over time, with temporary episodes of visual blurring that often start in the peripheral field of vision. If the pressure continues to build up, the nerves governing eye movement can also be affected, causing double vision

Symptoms of Pseudotumor Cerebri Syndrome

Like a real brain tumor, the symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri syndrome may present in a variety of ways.

Symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri syndrome may include:

  • Severe headaches that might originate behind the eyes
  • A ringing in your ears
  • Nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
  • Changes in vision, such as double vision, or vision loss
  • Brief episodes of blindness, typically lasting a few seconds and affecting one or both eyes
  • Seeing light flashes
  • Neck, shoulder, or back pain

Exertion can increase pressure inside the skull, meaning your symptoms may worsen with exercise or physical activity.

Risk Factors for Pseudotumor Cerebri Syndrome

Although the cause of pseudotumor cerebri syndrome is unknown, certain patients are more at risk; for example, the condition is nine times more common in women. Various other factors may increase your vulnerability to the condition.

Risk factors for pseudotumor cerebri syndrome may include:

  • Excess weight: Body weight is the most significant preventable pseudotumor cerebri syndrome risk factor, although people of all body types can develop the disorder.
  • Certain medications, including the following:
  • Lithium
  • Tetracyclines
  • Vitamin A derivatives
  • Blood vessel irregularities: Narrowing of the vein that drains blood and cerebrospinal fluid from the brain can result in increased pressure.
  • Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea can be associated with pseudotumor cerebri syndrome.

Treating Pseudotumor Cerebri Syndrome at UT Health Austin

A careful eye exam and testing of the visual fields is crucial to determine the risk of vision loss in patients with pseudotumor cerebri syndrome. An eye exam may reveal optic nerve swelling at the back of the eye, known as papilledema. Treatment depends on what is causing the fluid to build up inside the skull. Your ophthalmologist is well-versed in the most current, evidence-based treatment recommendations, which may include monitoring or surgery, and will work with you on determining the best course of action.

Care Team Approach

At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include fellowship-trained neuro-ophthalmologists, ophthalmic technicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, social workers, and more who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you. We also collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify new therapies to improve treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.

Learn More About Your Care Team

Mitchel and Shannon Wong Eye Institute

Health Transformation Building, 1st Floor
1601 Trinity Street, Bldg. A, Austin, Texas 78712
1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737)
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