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What is pseudotumor cerebri?

Steven A. Meyers, MD
Diagnostic Radiology
Pseudotumor cerebri is a condition thought to be due to increased pressure inside the head due to either an overproduction or poor absorption of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The cause of this condition is unknown. It mainly affects middle aged woman though men can be affected. The symptoms typically include a generalized headache sometimes associated with brief episodes of loss of vision, ringing or pulsating noises in the head, or nausea.

Pseudotumor cerebri (PTC) is a condition in which high cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure inside your head can cause problems with vision and headache.

The term “pseudotumor” (which means “false tumor”) comes from the days before CT and MRI scans, when doctors who noted swelling of the optic disc (the visible portion of the optic nerve in the back of the eye) considered the possibility of a brain tumor. Patients with optic disc swelling but no evidence of a tumor were said to have “pseudotumor.”

In PTC, the flow of CSF (a clear fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord) is blocked from flowing back out of the head as it should, leading to high CSF pressure inside your head. This pressure results in swelling of the optic disc at the back of the eye, which can damage (sometimes permanently) the optic nerve and cause vision loss. High pressure may also cause damage to the nerves that move the eyes, resulting in double vision.

Pseudotumor cerebri literally means "false brain tumor." It is likely due to high pressure within the skull caused by the buildup or poor absorption of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The disorder is most common in women between the ages of 20 and 50. The symptoms of pseudotumor cerebri, which include headache, nausea, vomiting, and pulsating sounds within the head, closely mimic the symptoms of large brain tumors.

This answer is based on source informaton from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Pseudotumor cerebri is a condition in which the pressure within the skull (intracranial pressure) increases and causes symptoms similar to that of a brain tumor. However, no tumor is present. The cause of the pressure is usually not apparent, and it may not be discovered at all. If it is not discovered, then pseudotumor cerebri is also called idiopathic intracranial hypertension.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.