Pseudotumor Cerebri

What is Pseudotumor Cerebri?

When pressure builds up in your skull with no apparent cause, it is called Pseudotumor Cerebri. You may experience symptoms that would appear if you had a brain tumor, but tests show there’s no tumor or growth.

The pressure may be caused by too much cerebrospinal fluid building up. This fluid protects your brain and your spinal cord, and if there’s an excess, it’s usually absorbed by your body. When something prevents your body from absorbing cerebrospinal fluid, it may cause pseudotumor cerebri.

Anyone can develop pseudotumor cerebri, but it is most common in overweight women in their 20s and 30s. Researchers are also testing whether having more narrow transverse sinuses in the brain may increase your odds of having this problem.

What are the Symptoms of Pseudotumor Cerebri?

People with pseudotumor cerebri often have headaches. Back, shoulder and neck pain are common in addition to headaches.

The increased pressure affects the optic nerve and may affect vision. Your vision could disappear in one or both eyes for brief periods, or you could have double vision or see light flashes.

Other symptoms include dizziness, nausea and vomiting and ringing in the ears.

Pseudotumor Cerebri Causes

Pseudotumor cerebri, or “false brain tumor,” occurs when the pressure around the brain increases, resulting in headaches and vision problems. While the condition is treatable, it can return in some cases. The exact causes of pseudotumor cerebri are unclear; however, it has been associated with the presence of too much fluid in the skull. This fluid, which cushions the brain and spinal cord protecting them from injury, is absorbed into the blood stream. Pseudotumor cerebri occurs when the cerebrospinal fluid is not fully absorbed, resulting in its build-up in the brain. This results in increased pressure in the skull. Several studies have found a link between pseudotumor cerebri and stenosis, or narrowing of the two large sinuses in the brain. However, it is not clear whether this is a cause or effect of the condition. The following factors, however, have been associated with pseudotumor cerebri: obesity, certain medications such as Tetracycline, and certain health problems such as lupus, blood-clotting disorders, sleep apnea, uremia, anemia, underactive parathyroid glands, Behcet’s syndrome and Addison’s disease.

How is Pseudotumor Cerebri Treated?

The drug acetazolamide, which is used to treat glaucoma, is effective in lessening the symptoms associated with pseudotumor cerebri because it reduces the amount of cerebrospinal fluid you produce. Your doctor may also prescribe a diuretic to help you lose excess water retained by your body. Some migraine medications can also be helpful for sufferers with severe headaches.

There are also surgical options for more severe cases, or those that don’t respond to medications. Your surgeon can cut a small hole in the membrane around the optic nerve to let fluid escape and reduce buildup. Another option is to place a shunt that will drain excess fluid from the brain into the abdomen. However, this is usually a last resort as infection and clogs are both risks with a shunt.

Pseudotumor Cerebri Prevention

Since weight gain puts you at a higher risk of suffering from pseudotumor cerebri, losing excess body weight can help you prevent this condition. Adopting a healthy diet and getting regular exercise can help you shed off extra pounds. Be sure to include plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains in your diet. Take dairy products with low-fat content and lean meats. Finally, avoid or limit intake of foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, sodium and trans fats. Adopt a regular workout routine, which can be as simple as walking around. You may take to a more vigorous exercise regime when your doctor clears you to do so.

Other pseudotumor cerebri prevention mechanisms include avoiding medications that may predispose you to the condition. These include tetracyclines, vitamin A derivatives, certain steroids and lithium based medications. Finally, getting adequate sleep can help you avoid sleep apnea, which is another risk factor for pseudotumor cerebri.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
January 17, 2018