Increased intracranial pressure is a rise in the pressure inside the skull that can result from or cause brain injury.
Increased intracranial pressure can be due to a rise in pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid. This is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Increase in intracranial pressure can also be due to a rise in pressure within the brain itself. This can be caused by a mass (such as a tumor), bleeding into the brain or fluid around the brain, or swelling within the brain itself.
An increase in intracranial pressure is a serious and life-threatening medical problem. The pressure can damage the brain or spinal cord by pressing on important structures and by restricting blood flow into the brain.
Many conditions can increase intracranial pressure. Common causes include:
Older children and adults:
A health care provider will usually make the diagnosis at the patient's bedside in an emergency room or hospital. Primary care doctors may sometimes spot early symptoms of increased intracranial pressure such as headache, seizures, or other nervous system problems.
An MRI or CT scan of the head can usually determine the cause of increased intracranial pressure and confirm the diagnosis.
Intracranial pressure may be measured during a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). It can also be measured directly by using a device that is drilled through the skull or a tube (catheter) that is inserted into a hollow area in the brain called the ventricle.
Sudden increased intracranial pressure is an emergency. The person will be treated in the intensive care unit of the hospital. The health care team will measure and monitor the person's neurological and vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
Treatment may include:
If a tumor, hemorrhage, or other problem has caused the increase in intracranial pressure, these problems will be treated.
Sudden increased intracranial pressure is a serious and often life-threatening condition. Prompt treatment results in better outlook.
If the increased pressure pushes on important brain structures and blood vessels, it can lead to serious, permanent problems or even death.
This condition usually cannot be prevented. If you have a persistent headache, blurred vision, changes in your level of alertness, nervous system problems, or seizures, seek medical help right away.
Reviewed By: Alireza Minagar, MD, MBA, Professor, Department of Neurology, LSU Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, LA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.