What is Increased Intracranial Pressure (ICP)?

A brain injury or some other health problem can cause growing pressure inside your skull. This dangerous condition is called increased intracranial pressure (ICP). It can lead to a headache. It can also further injure your brain or spinal cord.

This kind of headache is an emergency. It requires medical care right away. The sooner you get help, the more likely you are to recover.


What causes increased ICP?

Causes of increased ICP are:
  • Hydrocephalus, which is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid. This is the fluid around your brain and spinal cord.
  • Bleeding into the brain
  • Swelling in the brain
  • Aneurysm
  • Blood pooling in some part of the brain
  • Brain or head injury
  • Brain tumor
  • Infections such as encephalitis or meningitis
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke

What are the symptoms of increased ICP?

These are the most common symptoms of increased ICP:
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • High blood pressure
  • Shallow breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in your behavior
  • Weakness or problems with moving or talking
  • Lack of energy or sleepiness

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is increased ICP diagnosed?

To diagnose increased ICP, your healthcare provider will ask about your past health and do a physical exam. You may also need:
  • A nervous system exam
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)
  • CT scan
  • MRI

How is increased ICP treated?

Increased ICP is an emergency. Treatment might include:
  • Taking medicine to reduce swelling
  • Draining extra cerebrospinal fluid or blood around the brain
  • Removing part of the skull (craniotomy) to ease swelling (though this is rare)
  • The medical staff may put a pressure monitor (ICP monitor) through a hole in your skull so they can change the amount of medicine if needed.
  • You may also be treated for the underlying cause of your increased ICP, such as an infection, high blood pressure, tumor, or stroke.

What are possible complications of increased ICP?

Increased ICP has serious complications, such as:
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Neurological damage
  • Death

Can increased ICP be prevented?

You can lower your risk of certain health problems that may lead to increased ICP, such as:
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Infection
  • Head injury
Getting regular exercise, staying at a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet can lower your risk for high blood pressure and stroke. Getting recommended vaccines and washing your hands frequently can lower your risk for infections. You can lower your risk for a head injury by always wearing a helmet when participating in contact sports or riding a bike or motorcycle. Also always wear a seatbelt.

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