Pressure on the Brain (Part 1)

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Pressure on the Brain (Part 1)

A brain injury or several different medical conditions can cause higher pressure than normal inside the skull. The increased intracranial pressure (ICP) can lead to a headache and even injure the brain or spinal cord. Besides a headache, other common symptoms of an increased ICP include:

      • Blurred vision
      • Vomiting
      • Changes in behavior
      • Weakness or problems with moving or talking
      • Lack of energy or sleepiness

In addition to a brain or head injury, other causes of increased ICP are:

      • Excessive cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around the brain and spinal cord)
      • Bleeding into the brain
      • Swelling in the brain
      • Aneurysm
      • Brain tumor
      • Infections such as encephalitis or meningitis
      • Hydrocephalus (water on the brain)
      • High blood pressure

The normal range for ICP varies with age with young children and infants having lower levels. A normal adult ICP is defined as 5 to 15 mm Hg (7.5–20 cm H2O). ICP values of 20 to 30 mm Hg represent mild intracranial hypertension (ICH) with ICP values greater than 20 to 25 mm Hg requiring treatment in most circumstances. Sustained ICP values of greater than 40 mm Hg indicate severe, life-threatening ICH.

One of the diagnostic techniques for increased ICP is a spinal tap or lumbar puncture to measure the pressure of cerebrospinal fluid

Lumbar Puncture - Johns Hopkins Medicine

Figure 1. Draining excessive cerebrospinal fluid can reduce ICP. Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Part 2 will provide additional details of ICP’s relationship to blood pressure and potential treatments.

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