Is Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP)?
Increased intracranial pressure (ICP) is a rise in pressure
around your brain. It may be due to an increase in the amount of fluid
surrounding your brain. For example, there may be an increased amount of the
cerebrospinal fluid that naturally cushions your brain or an increase in blood
in the brain due to an injury or a ruptured tumor.
Increased ICP can also mean that your brain tissue itself is
swelling, either from injury or from an illness such as meningitis. Increased ICP
can be the result of a brain injury. Alternately, it can cause a brain injury.
Increased ICP is a
life-threatening condition. A person showing symptoms of increased ICP must get
emergency medical help right away.
Are the Symptoms of Increased ICP?
The signs of increased ICP include:
- increased blood pressure
- decreased mental abilities
- confusion about time, and then location and
people as the pressure worsens
- double vision
- pupils that don’t respond to changes in light
- shallow breathing
- loss of consciousness
These signs could indicate other serious conditions besides increased
ICP, such as a stroke, a brain tumor, or a recent head injury.
Signs of Increased ICP in Infants
Increased ICP in infants can be the result of child abuse,
especially shaken baby syndrome, a condition in which a small child has been
roughly handled to the point of brain injury. If you have reason to suspect
that a child is the victim of abuse, you can anonymously call the National
Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
Symptoms of increased ICP in infants include those for adults, as
well as some additional signs unique to babies less than 12 months old. Because
the bony plates that form the skull are softer in babies than in older children
and adults, they may spread apart in an infant with increased ICP. This is
called separated sutures of the
skull. Increased ICP can also cause the fontanel (the soft spot on the top of a baby’s head) to bulge
Are the Causes and Risk Factors for Increased ICP?
A blow to the head is the most common cause of increased ICP.
Other possible causes of increased ICP include:
- hydrocephalus, which is an accumulation of spinal
fluid in the brain cavities
- hypertensive brain injury, which is when
uncontrolled high blood pressure leads to bleeding in the brain
- hypoxemia, which is a deficiency of oxygen in
- meningitis, which is inflammation of the
protective membranes around the brain and spinal cord
Is Increased ICP Diagnosed?
Your doctor will need to know some important information about
your medical history right away. They will ask if you recently suffered a blow
to the head or if you have been diagnosed with a brain tumor. The doctor will
then begin a physical exam. They will check your blood pressure and see if your
pupils are dilating properly.
They may also measure the pressure of your cerebrospinal fluid
using a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap. Images of the brain from a CT or MRI
scan may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
Are the Treatments for Increased ICP?
The most urgent goal of treatment is to reduce the pressure
inside your skull. The next goal is to address any underlying conditions.
Effective treatments to reduce pressure include draining the
fluid through a shunt, or small hole, in the skull or via the spinal cord. The
medications mannitol and hypertonic saline can also lower pressure. They work
by removing fluids from your body. Because anxiety can make increased ICP worse
by raising your blood pressure, you may receive a sedative as well.
Less common treatments for increased ICP include:
- removing part of the skull
- taking medicines to induce coma
- deliberately chilling the body, or induced
Increased ICP Be Prevented?
You can’t prevent increased ICP, but you can prevent head injury.
Always wear a helmet when you bike or play contact sports. Wear your seatbelt
when driving and keep your seat back as far as possible from the dashboard or
the seat in front of you. Always buckle children into a child safety seat.
Falling at home is a common cause of head injury, especially in
the elderly. Avoid falls at home by keeping floors dry and uncluttered. If
necessary, install handrails.
Is the Outlook for Someone with Increased ICP?
Delayed treatment or failure to reduce intracranial pressure can
cause temporary brain damage, permanent brain damage, long-term coma, or even
The sooner you seek treatment to reduce pressure on your brain,
the better the outcome.