Clinical Characterization of Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension in Children Presenting to the Emergency Department: The Experience of a Large Tertiary Care Pediatric Hospital

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Idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) is a syndrome characterized by elevated intracranial pressure, without evidence of intracranial mass lesion or venous thrombosis on brain imaging. The syndrome occurs mainly in young, fertile, and overweight women but may present in any age group. The aim of this study was to report the presentation, course, and outcomes of older versus younger children presenting with IIH to the emergency department of our large tertiary care hospital during an 8-year period.


Retrospective chart review (January 2000-December 2008) of all patients younger than 17 years with IIH was performed on the basis of modified Dandy Criteria. The patients were analyzed according to age (<11 years and 11–17 years) and weight centile (<90%, 90%–97%, >97%).


Ages ranged from 2 to 16.5 years (mean [SD], 9.71 [4.56] years). Thirty males (46.8%) and 33 females (53.2%) were identified: 30 were prepubertal with a male-female ratio of 1:0.56 and 33 were pubertal with a male-female ratio of 1:2 (P < 0.05). There were no significant differences between the 2 age groups in proportions of children in the 3 predefined weight categories The most common presenting symptom was headache (75%), which was significantly less common in the younger age group compared with the older group (P < 0.01). Papilledema was present in 51 patients (82.3%). Mean (SD) cerebrospinal fluid opening pressure was 378 (16) mm H2O. Findings of brain imaging (mostly computed tomographic scan), performed in all patients, were normal in 42 (67.7%); the most common finding in the remainder was swelling of the optic nerves.


Our results indicate that IIH should be considered in any child with new-onset headache or visual disturbance, irrespective of age, sex, weight, or the presence of known predisposing factors. When IIH is suspected, neuroimaging should be performed promptly to exclude secondary causes of this condition because IIH in children remains a diagnosis of exclusion. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment for IIH can prevent potential visual loss.

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