What is Benign Intracranial Hypertension?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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Benign intracranial hypertension is a medical condition that refers to increased pressure inside the skull. Symptoms often include severe headaches, nausea, blurred vision, and ringing in the ears. Benign intracranial hypertension is usually considered idiopathic, as it does not appear to be the result of any congenital or environmental cause. A doctor can confirm the presence of hypertension and rule out cancerous brain tumors and other conditions through a series of brain scans and eye exams. Prescription migraine medications are often enough to provide relief to people with mild to moderate benign intracranial hypertension, though surgery may be necessary for individuals with severe pain.

Pressure in the skull increases when there is an overabundance of cerebrospinal fluid. In normal amounts, the fluid surrounds and protects the brain from injury. Too much fluid causes pressure to build up and can lead to severe discomfort. Medical research has been unable to determine exact causes of influxes in cerebrospinal fluid, though it appears to be linked to a number of different medications and diseases. Obesity, iron deficiency anemia, and hypothyroidism are predictors of benign intracranial hypertension, as are lithium drugs, birth control pills, and steroids.


Most people who experience benign intracranial hypertension suffer from frequent migraines, dizziness, nausea, and hearing problems. Pressure can build up enough to suppress the optic nerve, which can result in eye problems. Individuals may experience blurry or double vision, a loss of peripheral vision, or even temporary blindness. A person who has migraines and other problems associated with intracranial pressure should contact his or her primary care physician to receive a proper diagnosis.

A doctor can conduct a physical exam and medical history to look for eye swelling or identifiable causes of headaches. If the physician suspects benign intracranial hypertension, he or she will usually refer the patient to a neurologist for a more thorough examination. Specialists may conduct magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography scans to look for abnormalities such as brain tumors. Occasionally, a patient must undergo a spinal tap so that doctors can confirm high levels of cerebrospinal fluid.

Benign intracranial hypertension is often a temporary condition that will dissipate on its own over time. Doctors usually attempt to treat the condition, however, in an effort to relieve the frequency and intensity of migraines. Neurologists often prescribe oral medications that can reduce migraine symptoms and limit the body's production of cerebrospinal fluid. If medications are ineffective, invasive surgical procedures to drain excess fluid can provide relief. Patients are typically instructed to schedule regular checkups to make sure that symptoms do not return.


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