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Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension is a rare condition that causes an unexplained increase of pressure in the skull, leading to painful headaches and vision problems. It’s unknown why this occurs, and many patients try to find relief with medication and lifestyle changes to no avail. However, minimally invasive surgical procedures can reduce or eliminate your symptoms much quicker when other treatment options have failed to provide good results.

What Is Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension?

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) is a rare neurological condition characterized by increased pressure within the skull. The term "idiopathic" means that the condition's exact cause is unknown.

IIH can occur in individuals of any age. However, it is more common in women between the ages of 20 and 50. In fact, about 19 out of 20 people with the condition are women. Other risk factors include a BMI over 30 and chronic kidney disease. The exact cause of IIH isn't fully understood, but it is thought to be related to the production or absorption of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the fluid that cushions the brain and spinal cord.

Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

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Fluid in the Brain or IIH can now be treated with minimally invasive procedure.
Women 20-40 are at risk for Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension
Blurry or Loss of Vision may not be a problem with your eyes. IIH in the brain could be the cause.
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What Causes Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension?

Some causes of intracranial hypertension are known. For example, some people may have a build-up of pressure around the brain after a severe head injury. Others may experience intracranial hypertension due to health conditions such as a stroke, blood clot, or tumor.

However, if you have idiopathic intracranial hypertension, the exact cause is unknown. In people with this condition, CSF builds up for no apparent reason. This type of intracranial hypertension is rare but more likely to occur in younger women with excess weight.

Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension Symptoms

The symptoms of IIH can vary from person to person. The most common symptom is a sudden, severe headache that can be felt in the front of the head or behind the eyes. Some people may also experience changes in vision, such as seeing double or blind spots. Other symptoms of IIH include:

  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Previously Called Pseudotumor Cerebri Treatment

Some of the symptoms of IIH can be similar to those of a brain tumor, such as headaches, vision changes, and nausea. An outdated name for this condition is pseudotumor cerebri, which means “false brain tumor.” However, it’s important to note that IIH is not caused by a brain tumor, which is the growth of abnormal cells within the brain.

If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with either IIH or a brain tumor, your healthcare provider can perform a thorough evaluation and diagnostic tests to find the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend the appropriate treatment.

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Diagnosis and Management

Because IIH can mimic the signs of a brain tumor, your doctor may use several diagnostic tests to determine if there's something causing your symptoms. This might include a brain CT scan, MRI, eye exam, spinal tap, and more to rule out a tumor or underlying condition.

IIH is diagnosed when no other cause or explanation is found for increased intracranial pressure. For most people, the symptoms of IIH improve with treatment, but your provider may recommend different options depending on the severity of your condition and overall health. Some of the most common treatment options include a combination of lifestyle changes and medication to reduce the pressure inside the skull.

In severe cases, minimally invasive surgeries may be necessary to provide relief from symptoms. This may involve inserting a shunt to drain excess fluid or performing an optic nerve sheath fenestration, which involves making a small hole in the covering of the optic nerve to alleviate pressure.

Surgical Treatment of Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

If medication or lifestyle changes don’t work to relieve the symptoms of IIH, minimally invasive surgical techniques may be recommended as part of your treatment plan.

  • Optic nerve sheath fenestration: Optic nerve sheath fenestration is a surgical procedure where a small hole is made in the covering of the optic nerve to relieve cranial pressure. This treatment may be recommended if IIH is causing significant vision loss problems.
  • Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt placement: A ventriculoperitoneal shunt is a surgical procedure where a tube is placed inside the skull to drain excess fluid and reduce pressure. Ventriculoperitoneal shunts can effectively and successfully provide relief from headaches, vision problems, and other symptoms of IIH.
  • Lumbar puncture:  A lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap, involves inserting a needle into the spinal canal to remove excess cerebrospinal fluid and alleviate pressure inside the skull. This can provide immediate relief from symptoms such as severe headaches or vision problems while additional treatment options are considered.

It's important to note that these procedures are typically reserved for cases of IIH that are severe or that don't respond to other treatments. Often, medication and lifestyle changes can effectively manage the symptoms of IIH without the need for surgical intervention.

Why Choose Interventional & Vascular Partners?

When it comes to treating IIH, patients want to ensure they are receiving the best care possible. At Vascular & Interventional Partners, our team of highly skilled interventional radiologists uses a multidisciplinary approach and the latest techniques to provide relief from the symptoms of increased cranial pressure. Our state-of-the-art facility in Scottsdale, AZ, is equipped with the latest technology and diagnostic tools to ensure optimal outcomes.

Our doctors have extensive experience in a wide range of minimally invasive interventional procedures. If you or a loved one are suffering from IIH, we invite you to schedule a consultation with our team to learn more about how we can help. Contact us by clicking here to complete our online form or call our office at 480-435-9100 to schedule an appointment.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the recovery after IIH treatment?

The recovery period after IIH treatment can vary depending on the type of treatment received. For some procedures, such as lumbar punctures, there is little to no downtime. However, for more invasive procedures like shunt placement, recovery can take longer.

During the recovery period, patients may experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea and fatigue. It's important to follow your doctor's post-treatment instructions closely to ensure proper healing and minimize any potential risks or complications. Our team will provide you with detailed information on what to expect during your recovery.

What is the success rate of IIH treatment?

The success rate of IIH treatment varies depending on the severity of your condition and the medical treatment method used. However, many patients see significant improvement in their symptoms after treatment. The success rate of medication therapy ranges from 50-80%, while the success rate of surgical treatments, such as optic nerve sheath fenestration and CSF shunting, ranges from 70-90%.

What are the potential risks or complications of IIH treatment?

As with any medical procedure, there are potential risks and complications associated with IIH treatment. For medication therapy, some of the common side effects include body weight gain, gastrointestinal issues and increased risk of blood clots. Surgical treatments may carry risks such as infection, bleeding and neurological complications. However, these risks can often be minimized with careful patient selection and a skilled medical team.