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Idiopathic intracranial hypertension


Neurosurgery Department, University General Hospital of Alicante, Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research in the Valencian Region (FISABIO), Alicante, Spain

The definition of Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) has been reviewed over time and many hypotheses have been expressed as cause of the disease.

Heinrich Quincke in 1897 reported the first cases of IIH shortly after he introduced the lumbar puncture into medicine. It was named pseudotumor cerebri in 1904 but was not well delineated clinically until the 1940's when cerebral angiography was added to pneumoencephalography to identify cases of cerebral mass lesions. Foley coined the term benign intracranial hypertension in 1955 but reports from the 1980's demonstrated a high incidence of visual loss 1) 2) and the term “benign” is no longer appropriate.

The syndrome of increased intracranial pressure without hydrocephalus or mass lesion and with normal CSF composition, is a diagnosis of exclusion now termed idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH). Diagnostic criteria of this disorder have not been updated since the Modified Dandy Criteria were articulated in 1985. Since then, new developments, including advances in neuroimaging technology and recognition of additional secondary causes of intracranial hypertension, have further enhanced the ability to diagnose conditions that may mimic IIH. These factors are not addressed in the Modified Dandy Criteria 3).

Patients in whom a syndrome of increased ICP secondary to certain medications develops or who are found to have cerebral lateral sinus thrombosis are nonetheless still classified as having idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH).

IIH is the preferred term for this condition, replacing pseudotumor cerebri, which often includes cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and other etiologies of increased ICP, and benign intracranial hypertension, which does not take into account that some IIH patients do not have a “benign” course and go on to irreversibly lose vision 4).


There is limited literature on the epidemiology of idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH).

It has an overall incidence of 1.6/100,000 per annum 5), although it has significantly higher incidence in obese females aged 20–44 at 19/100,000 6).

The prevalence of IIH in the USA is about 1 per 100,000, and it mainly affects adult women in their 20s and 30s 7) 8).

IIH usually occurs in obese women in the childbearing years.

The incidence of IIH in several Middle East countries has been estimated at 2.02-2.2/100,000 in the general population, which is higher than the Western rate. Obesity is a major risk factor globally and it is associated with an increased risk of severe vision loss due to IIH. There has been an increase in obesity prevalence in the Middle East countries mainly affecting the Gulf Council Countries (GCC), which parallels increased industrial development. This rise may be contributing to the increasing incidence of IIH in these countries. Other risk factors may also be contributing to IIH in Middle East countries and the differences and similarities to Western IIH merit further study 9).

Medical records of patients diagnosed with IIH between 2007 and 2014 in a general hospital in Northern Ireland were reviewed.

There were 45 patients with IIH, 44 women: 1 man. The mean age at presentation was 29.4 (SD 9.8) years and mean body mass index (BMI) 39.8 (SD 9.5) kg/ m2. All patients had neuroimaging, 44 (98%) had CT/MR venography and 41 (91%) had visual perimetry. The crude incidence of IIH was 2.36 per 100,000 (95% CI 1.65-3.37). For women, the incidence was 4.65 per 100,000/year (95% CI 3.25-6.66). The prevalence was 14.3 per 100,000 overall (95% CI 9.72-20.9) but 28.1 per 100,000 in women (95% CI 19.2-41.2). Visual field defects were identified in 25 of 41 (61%); 4 patients (9%) required shunting procedures. At follow-up, the mean BMI decreased by 1.6 kg/m2 (p = 0.024).

The incidence of IIH in the northwest of Northern Ireland is among the highest ever reported and probably reflects the known increase in obesity 10).

The chairpersons of all neurology and ophthalmology departments in Israel were asked to complete questionnaires regarding patients diagnosed with PTC/IIH from 1998 through 1999. Each questionnaire contained details regarding patient's age, sex, country of birth, age at diagnosis, weight, height, presence of obesity, and the results of lumbar puncture, brain computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and/or magnetic resonance venography.

Ninety-one patients with PTC/IIH were diagnosed during the years 1998 to 1999. Eighty-five (93.4%) patients were females and six (6.6%) patients were males. The calculated incidence of PTC/IIH in the Israeli general population was 0.57 to 0.94 per 100,000 persons, with incidences of 1.82 per 100,000 for women and 0.034 per 100,000 for men. The incidence for women during the childbirth years was 4.02 per 100,000. The female to male ratio was higher than previously reported for Western countries.

Although the population of Israel is a mixture of people originating from Eastern and Western countries, the incidence of PTC/IIH was found to be similar to that of Western countries. This finding is an additional support to the notion that PTC/IIH is more common in obese populations 11).


Clinical Features

Patients most frequently present with headaches, transient visual obscurations, papilledema, and/or pulsatile tinnitus, but may also be asymptomatic 12).

The signs and symptoms of intracranial hypertension are that the patient maintains an alert and oriented mental state, but has no localizing neurologic findings.

In children, numerous nonspecific signs and symptoms may be present.

It has been reported that the clinical features of childhood IIH, in particular prepubertal IIH, differ from those of adult IIH 13) 14).

The differences are the absence of differences in the sex distribution at the onset and the absence of a significant correlation with obesity. In addition, adult IIH patients often complain of headaches, have transient low vision, and tinnitus, while pediatric IIH patients often complain of restlessness, dizziness, and neck pain. However, adolescent IIH patients have clinical features similar to that of adult IIH. Currently, there is ongoing prospective study of the treatment of IIH in adults, but no data exist in children 15).

Most children respond to typical medical treatment such as intravenous carbonic anhydrase or steroids. Indication for surgical treatment include initial severe visual dysfunction or a worsening of the results of a visual test 16).

At the moment, because the etiology of IIH in children remains unclear, a specific treatment has not yet developed 17)


The most common symptom of IIH is headache, which occurs in almost all (92–94%) cases. It is characteristically worse in the morning, generalized in character and throbbing in nature. It may be associated with nausea and vomiting. The headache can be made worse by any activity that further increases the intracranial pressure, such as coughing and sneezing. The pain may also be experienced in the neck and shoulders.

Although the headache characteristics are indistinguishable from the symptoms of migraine headache, accompanying symptoms of increased intracranial pressure, such as pulsatile tinnitus, transient visual obscurations, and radicular neck pain, may aid in the diagnosis 18).


Many have pulsatile tinnitus, a whooshing sensation in one or both ears (64–87%); this sound is synchronous with the pulse.

Visual acuity loss

The increased pressure can lead to papilledema.

Those who do experience symptoms typically report “transient visual obscurations”, episodes of difficulty seeing that occur in both eyes but not necessarily at the same time. Long-term untreated papilledema leads to visual loss, initially in the periphery but progressively towards the center of vision.

Visual acuity loss in IIH can be caused by both outer retinal changes and optic neuropathy. Vision loss from outer retinal changes is mostly reversible. The outcome of patients with coexisting outer retinal changes and optic neuropathy or optic neuropathy alone depends on the degree of optic neuropathy, which can be predicted by the retinal ganglion cell-inner plexiform layer complex (GCL-IPL) thickness 19).

Other symptoms

Various other symptoms, such as numbness of the extremities, generalized weakness, loss of smell, and loss of coordination, are reported more rarely; none are specific for IIH.

The increased pressure leads to compression and traction of the cranial nerves. Most commonly, abducens nerve palsy.

More rarely, the oculomotor nerve and trochlear nerve (third and fourth nerve palsy, respectively) are affected; both play a role in eye movements.

The facial nerve (seventh cranial nerve) is affected occasionally –- the result is total or partial weakness of the muscles of facial expression on one or both sides of the face.

Spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak


Differential diagnosis



Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) or pseudotumor cerebri is a potentially blinding disease.

Few studies have directly compared headache and visual outcomes across treatment modalities.

A systematic analysis of case series was conducted to compare therapeutic efficacies among currently available interventions. The electronic databases from EMBASE (1980-17 September 2013), Medline (1980-17 September 2013), Cochrane databases, and references of review articles was searched. All publications reporting headache and visual outcomes following intervention for IIH were included. A total of 457 manuscripts were selected and full text analysis produced 30 studies with extractable data. All studies constituted Class III evidence. Overall, 332 patients treated by optic nerve sheath fenestration (ONSF), 287 by lumboperitoneal shunt (LPS), 61 by ventriculoperitoneal shunt (VPS), and 88 by dural venous sinus stenting, were identified.

Visual acuity improved in 49.3%, 56.6%, 67.2% and 84.6% of patients following VPS, LPS, ONSF, and stent placements, respectively. Resolution of papilledema was noted in 59.9% to 97.1%. Postoperative headache improved in 36.5%, 62.5%, 75.2%, and 82.9% of patients treated with ONSF, VPS, LPS, and stenting, respectively. Shunt revision was more frequent for LPS compared to VPS (46% versus 36%; p<0.2). Among the LPS revisions, 87.5% occurred within the first 12months following initial surgery. A pooled analysis indicated an overall similar improvement in visual outcomes across treatment modalities, and a modest improvement in headache following cerebrospinal fluid shunting and endovascular stent placement. Based on currently available literature, there is insufficient evidence to recommend or reject any treatments modalities for IIH 20).

Quality of Life

IIH affects QOL at time of diagnosis even in patients with mild visual impairment. Vision-specific QOL in patients with newly diagnosed IIH may be as decreased as that for patients with other neuro-ophthalmic disorders. IIH treatment should target visual loss and other symptoms of increased intracranial pressure associated with reduced QOL. Reduced QOL does not simply reflect obesity, an underlying IIH risk factor 21).

Headache was the only clinical outcome that correlated with enhanced QOL. Effective headache management is required to improve QOL in IIH 22).

Patients with elevated CRP and patients with thrombophilia had an unfavorable visual outcome. Increased cortisol levels and abnormal calcium correlated with a higher rate of recurrence. The visual outcome of patients with elevated LDH was better than those with normal LDH. It seems that certain metabolic, inflammatory and coagulation abnormalities may influence the course of IIH. If confirmed in further studies, these findings could contribute to elucidation of the etiology and prognosis of IIH. 23).

Systematic reviews

A systematic review of the surgical treatment of IIH was carried out. Cochrane Library, MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were systematically searched from 1985 to 2014 to identify all relevant manuscripts written in English. Additional studies were identified by searching the references of retrieved papers and relative narrative reviews.

Forty-one (41) studies were included (36 case series and 5 case reports), totalling 728 patients. Three hundred forty-one patients were treated with optic nerve sheath fenestration (ONSF), 128 patients with lumboperitoneal shunting (LPS), 72 patients with ventriculoperitoneal shunting (VPS), 155 patients with venous sinus stenting and 32 patients with bariatric surgery. ONSF showed considerable efficacy in vision improvement, while CSF shunting had a superior headache response. Venous sinus stenting demonstrated satisfactory results in both vision and headache improvement along with the best complication profile and low relapse rate, but longer follow-up periods are needed. The complication rate of bariatric surgery was high when compared to other interventions and visual outcomes have not been reported adequately. ONSF had the lowest cost.

No surgical modality proved to be clearly superior to any other in IIH management. However, in certain contexts, a given approach appears more justified. Therefore, a treatment algorithm has been formulated, based on the extracted evidence of this review. The traditional treatment paradigm may need to be re-examined with sinus stenting as a first-line treatment modality 24).


The Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension Treatment Trial represents the largest prospectively analyzed cohort of untreated patients with IIH. The data show that IIH is almost exclusively a disease of obese young women. Patients with IIH with mild visual loss have typical symptoms, may have mild acuity loss, and have visual field defects, with predominantly arcuate loss and enlarged blind spots that require formal perimetry for detection 25).

Case series


Sankey et al. performed a retrospective review of 31 patients (169 total emergency department visits) who presented to the emergency department for IIH-related symptoms between 2003 and 2015. Demographics, comorbidities, symptoms, IIH diagnosis and treatment history, ophthalmological examination, diagnostic lumbar puncture (LP), imaging findings, and data regarding admission and management decisions were collected. Multivariable general linear models regression analysis was performed to assess the predictive factors associated with admission and shunt revision. RESULTS Thirty-one adult patients with a history of shunt placement for IIH visited the emergency department a total of 169 times for IIH-related symptoms, with a median of 3 visits (interquartile range 2-7 visits) per patient. Five patients had more than 10 emergency department visits. Baseline factors associated with admission included male sex (OR 10.47, 95% CI 2.13-51.56; p = 0.004) and performance of an LP (OR 3.10, 95% CI 1.31-7.31; p = 0.01). Contrastingly, older age at presentation (OR 0.94, 95% CI 0.90-0.99; p = 0.01), and a greater number of prior emergency department visits (OR 0.94, 95% CI 0.89-0.99; p = 0.02) were slightly protective against admission. The presence of papilledema (OR 11.62, 95% CI 3.20-42.16; p < 0.001), Caucasian race (OR 40.53, 95% CI 2.49-660.09 p = 0.009), and systemic hypertension (OR 7.73, 95% CI 1.11-53.62; p = 0.03) were independent risk factors for shunt revision. In addition, a greater number of prior emergency department visits (OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.77-0.96; p = 0.009) and older age at presentation (OR 0.93, 95% CI 0.87-0.99; p = 0.02) were slightly protective against shunt revision, while there was suggestive evidence that presence of a programmable shunt (OR 0.23, 95% CI 0.05-1.14; p = 0.07) was a protective factor against shunt revision. Of note, location of the proximal catheter in the ventricle or lumbar subarachnoid space was not significantly associated with admission or shunt revision in the multivariable analyses.

The decision to admit a shunt-treated patient from the emergency department for symptoms related to IIH is challenging. Knowledge of factors associated with the need for admission and/or shunt revision is required. In this study, factors such as male sex, younger age at presentation, lower number of prior emergency department visits, and performance of a diagnostic LP were independent predictors of admission. In addition, papilledema was strongly predictive of the need for shunt revision, highlighting the importance of an ophthalmological examination for shunt-treated adults with IIH who present to the emergency department 26).

Levitt et al., reviewed all cerebral venograms with manometry performed for headache between January 2008 and May 2015. Patient demographics, headache etiology, intracranial pressure (ICP) measurements, and radiographic and manometric results were recorded. CVPG was defined as a difference ≥ 8 mm Hg by venographic manometry. RESULTS One hundred sixty-four venograms were performed in 155 patients. There were no procedural complications. Ninety-six procedures (58.5%) were for patients with IIH. The overall incidence of CVPG was 25.6% (42 of 164 procedures): 35.4% (34 of 96 procedures) in IIH patients and 11.8% (8 of 68 procedures) in non-IIH patients. Sixty procedures (36.6%) were performed in patients with preexisting shunts. Seventy-seven patients (49.7%) had procedures preceded by an ICP measurement within 4 weeks of venography, and in 66 (85.7%) of these patients, the ICP had been found to be elevated. CVPG was seen in 8.3% (n = 5) of the procedures in the 60 patients with a preexisting shunt and in 0% (n = 0) of the 11 procedures in the 77 patients with normal ICP (p < 0.001 for both). Noninvasive imaging (MR venography, CT venography) was assessed prior to venography in 112 (68.3%) of 164 cases, and dural venous sinus abnormalities were demonstrated in 73 (65.2%) of these cases; there was a trend toward CVPG (p = 0.07). Multivariate analysis demonstrated an increased likelihood of CVPG in patients with IIH (OR 4.97, 95% CI 1.71-14.47) and a decreased likelihood in patients with a preexisting shunt (OR 0.09, 95% CI 0.02-0.44).

CVPG is uncommon in IIH patients, rare in those with preexisting shunts, and absent in those with normal ICP 27).


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idiopathic_intracranial_hypertension.txt · Last modified: 2019/07/23 20:43 by administrador