What is Pediatric Pseudotumor Cerebri Syndrome?

Head pain is a common complaint in children and teens.

Most headaches result from benign causes. But sometimes head pain can be a sign of a serious disease like pediatric pseudotumor cerebri syndrome (PTC).

PTC, also known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), is a serious neuro-ophthalmological disorder that can lead to vision loss.

PTC results from buildup of cerebral spinal fluid inside the skull, causing increased intracranial pressure. This pressure pushes on the optic nerves (which are responsible for vision), causing them to swell.

Because there's no actual tumor, it's called pseudotumor even though patients described symptoms like those of a brain tumor (a "false tumor").

Who gets PTC?

PTC is four times more frequent in girls compared to boys, especially after puberty.

PTC risk factors

Obesity is the main risk factor for PTC.

Less often, PTC risk factors may include:

  • Acne medicines (doxycycline, minocycline, or retinoic acid)
  • Growth hormone treatment
  • Lithium

Certain health problems that may increase PTC risk include:

  • Venous clots
  • Skull defects such as craniosynostosis
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Thyroid disorders

Pseudotumor Cerebri Complications

The most concerning complication of pediatric PTC is that it can lead to vision problems, including blindness.

Increased pressure on the optic nerve causes it to swell. The swelling can lead to loss of nerve signaling and restrict blood flow to the eyes.

Without treatment, PTC can cause lasting damage.

Sometimes it can lead to hydrocephalus, a condition in which spinal fluid builds up in the skull and needs drained.

Why Choose Children's Hospital for Pseudotumor Care?

At UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh:

  • Our board-certified pediatric physicians specialize in treating pseudotumor cerebri.
  • Our PTC treatment team offers services that include all areas of child neurology.
  • We lead and take part in clinical trials and research to find new and better treatments for each child under our care.

To learn more about PTC or make an appointment for your child with the Brain Care Institute, call 412-692-5520.