Diseases & Conditions

Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension – Your Questions Answered

Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) is a neurological disorder in which the pressure in the skull increases. It is caused by a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) around the brain and can put pressure on the optic nerve, which helps you to see, leading to problems with your vision or even temporary blindness.

Diagnosing and treating IIH can be complex, multi-step processes. In this article, we answer some commonly asked questions around the processes involved that ensure a prompt and accurate diagnosis and successful treatment of the condition.

What is CSF and how is it measured?

CSF is the clear, colorless fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It provides support to the brain, acting as a cushion against injury, helps to regulate intracranial pressure and ensures a stable environment for the proper functioning of the brain. Measuring CSF is a crucial part of diagnosing and monitoring IIH and is typically done through a procedure called a lumbar puncture, also known as a spinal tap.

How is a lumber puncture performed?

During a lumbar puncture, a thin needle is inserted into the lower part of the spine, allowing a doctor to access the CSF and measure its pressure. The pressure within the CSF can vary and is usually measured in centimeters of water (cmH2O). Elevated intracranial pressure, along with normal CSF composition and other diagnostic criteria, is a sign of IIH and the procedure helps differentiate it from other conditions that may have similar symptoms. A lumbar puncture may also be performed during IIH treatment to monitor CSF pressure and ensure it's within the target range.

A lumbar puncture is generally considered a safe and well-tolerated procedure when performed by experienced healthcare professionals. As with all medical procedures, there are some risks. Common side effects include discomfort or pain as the needle is inserted and headache after the procedure. Rarer side effects include bleeding or infection at the puncture site, or, in the case of severely elevated intracranial pressure, brain herniation if too much CSF is removed. This is extremely rare but underscores the importance of performing a lumbar puncture by experienced healthcare providers.

If you are concerned about having a lumbar puncture, it's important to discuss your concerns with your doctor. They can explain the reasons for the lumbar puncture, the risks involved, and any potential alternatives for confirming the diagnosis.

How is weight connected to IIH?

Weight is closely linked to IIH, as obesity is a significant risk factor for the development and worsening of the condition. Excess body weight can lead to an increase in the amount of fatty tissue, which produces hormones that may affect intracranial pressure regulation. Moreover, obesity can contribute to fluid retention and other metabolic changes that raise intracranial pressure, further complicating the condition.

Effective weight management/weight loss is often a crucial part of IIH treatment to help alleviate symptoms, prevent disease progression and improve or even resolve the condition.

How is IIH treated?

It’s important to remember that weight loss alone may not be enough in all cases to treat IIH and its impact can vary from person to person. Additional treatments, such as medications or surgical interventions, may be necessary, especially if vision problems persist or worsen.

It's important for individuals with IIH to work closely with a healthcare team, including neurologists, neuro-ophthalmologists, and dietitians, to determine the most appropriate and effective treatment plan for their specific situation. Weight loss, when recommended, should be part of a comprehensive approach to managing IIH.

The choice of treatment depends on the patient's condition, response to initial interventions, and the presence of vision-threatening symptoms. Often, a combination of medical and surgical approaches is used to manage IIH effectively.

Can I get pregnant while I have IIH?

Pregnancy is possible for individuals with IIH, but there are specific considerations and potential risks involved. It's essential to discuss your plans to become pregnant with your healthcare team, as they can provide guidance and closely monitor your condition throughout the pregnancy.

Here are some important points to consider:

  • Medications: Discuss the safety of any IIH medications during pregnancy with your healthcare provider.
  • Regular Monitoring: During pregnancy, regular monitoring of your intracranial pressure and overall health is essential.
  • Weight Management: Weight gain during pregnancy is normal, but it's important to manage it to avoid exacerbating IIH symptoms.
  • Delivery Method: The method of childbirth can be a consideration, as straining during labor may temporarily increase intracranial pressure.
  • Postpartum Period: After childbirth, it's crucial to continue monitoring and managing your IIH.

It's important to remember that every pregnancy is unique, and the impact of IIH during pregnancy can vary from person to person. With proper medical care and monitoring, many individuals with IIH can have successful pregnancies. However, the risks and management strategies should be discussed in detail with your healthcare provider before becoming pregnant.

Will I need lifelong treatment for IIH?

The duration of treatment for Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) can vary from person to person. Some individuals may require ongoing treatment to manage the condition, while others may experience remission and reduce or discontinue treatment. The approach to treatment depends on the severity of your condition, your response to treatment, and other individual factors. It's important to work closely with your healthcare team to determine the most suitable treatment plan for your specific situation, which may include medications, lifestyle modifications, and, in some cases, surgical interventions. Regular follow-up appointments and monitoring will help assess your progress and adjust your treatment plan as needed.

How does stenting work in the management of IIH?

Stenting is a surgical procedure that involves the placement of a stent in a specific area to address increased intracranial pressure. It is usually offered to patients who do not respond to other treatments, have severe symptoms, or are at risk of permanent vision loss.

The procedure involves a neurosurgeon or interventional radiologist inserting a stent into one of the major veins that drain blood from the brain. This vein is often narrowed or blocked in IIH, and the stent helps to keep it open.

Stenting is a surgical procedure and carries some risks, such as infection, bleeding, and blood vessel injury. The benefits and risks of the procedure are carefully evaluated for each individual, and it is typically considered after other treatments have been exhausted.

Your best chance of successful treatment

Working closely with a multidisciplinary healthcare team, like the one offered at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Neuro-Ophthalmology Program, that includes neurologists, neuro-ophthalmologists, and neurosurgeons, is an important factor in determining the most appropriate treatment plan for IIH.

Managing IIH can be a long-term process. Always talk to your medical team to discuss any concerns or preferences you have, as this will ensure an appropriate treatment plan which is personalized to you, and the best chance of improving symptoms and preventing vision loss.

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

We’re here to make managing your healthcare easier.

800 8 2223 Request an Appointment

Our Doctors

Meet all the doctors from Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

View Doctors

Patient Stories

Listen to the inspiring stories from our patients.

Learn More

Insurance Partners

We partner with many insurance companies offering coverage for your care.

Explore More