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Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension Medication

  • Author: Mark S Gans, MD; Chief Editor: Andrew G Lee, MD  more...
 
Updated: Jan 28, 2016
 

Medication Summary

Specific therapy for idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) is aimed at lowering intracranial pressure (ICP) pharmacologically. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (eg, acetazolamide) and loop diuretics (eg, furosemide) are thought to exert their effect on ICP by reducing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) production at the choroid plexus. Cardiac glycosides have a similar effect.

Corticosteroids are indicated on a short-term basis in patients who present with severe papilledema and compromise of their visual function. They are effective in reducing ICP, but the mechanism of action is unknown. Corticosteroids are often used as maximum medical management when rapid lowering of ICP is required.

Patients with IIH may experience headaches that have many of the features of migraine. These headaches can often be controlled with amitriptyline, propranolol, or other commonly prescribed migraine prophylaxis agents. Topiramate is also an excellent choice, in that one of its side effects is weight loss (a common association in IIH), which can help put the disease in remission.

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Antiglaucoma, Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors

Class Summary

Carbonic anhydrase (CA) is an enzyme found in many tissues. It catalyzes a reversible reaction whereby carbon dioxide becomes hydrated and carbonic acid becomes dehydrated. These changes may result in a decrease in CSF production by the choroid plexus.

Acetazolamide (Diamox Sequels)

 

Acetazolamide is a nonbacteriostatic sulfonamide and a potent CA inhibitor that is effective in diminishing fluid secretion. It lowers ICP by decreasing production of CSF. Inhibition of CA results in a drop in sodium ion transport across the choroidal epithelium. Reduction of CSF production occurs within hours.

Acetazolamide commonly achieves long-lasting control of transient visual obscurations, headache, and diplopia, all of which are manifestations of intracranial hypertension, even though papilledema does not resolve completely. The effect on ICP is not sustained, and many patients develop adverse effects severe enough to hinder compliance.

Few patients tolerate dosages higher than 2 g/day, but 4 g/day may be required to produce a measurable pressure-lowering effect. Treatment is usually initiated at 1 g/day and increased to 2 g/day if symptoms are not controlled and adverse effects are not severe. Treatment with acetazolamide alone is not appropriate for patients who are experiencing progressive visual field loss.

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Loop diuretics

Class Summary

Loop diuretics inhibit reabsorption of sodium in the ascending limb of the loop of Henle and have a weak inhibitory action on CA.

Furosemide (Lasix)

 

Furosemide inhibits CSF production, but the precise mechanism by which it does so is unclear. A combination of CA inhibition and an effect on sodium absorption across the choroid plexus may result in the decreased CSF production.

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Cardiovascular, Other

Class Summary

Cardiac glycosides reduce CSF production at choroid plexus and reduce ICP.

Digoxin (Lanoxin)

 

Digoxin is present in high concentrations in the choroid plexuses of patients taking standard cardiac doses. It has been shown to reduce CSF production by as much as 78% in humans, probably by inhibiting the Na-K-ATPase pump. There has been only 1 report in which a patient with IIH was treated with digoxin, but the patient was asymptomatic, and thus, it is not known whether symptoms would have been controlled.

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Corticosteroids

Class Summary

Glucocorticoids reduce ICP through an unknown mechanism.

Prednisone

 

The mechanism of action by which corticosteroids lower CSF pressure has not been established. Some believe that they may facilitate outflow at arachnoid granulations.

Prednisolone (Pediapred, Millipred, Orapred)

 

The mechanism of action by which corticosteroids lower CSF pressure has not been established. Some believe that they may facilitate outflow at arachnoid granulations.

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Beta-Blockers

Class Summary

Beta-blockers may prevent migraines by blocking vasodilators, decreasing platelet adhesiveness and aggregation, stabilizing the membrane, and increasing the release of oxygen to tissues. Significant to their activity as migraine prophylactic agents is the lack of partial agonistic activity. Latency from initial treatment to therapeutic results may be as long as 2 months.

Propranolol (Inderal LA)

 

Propranolol is FDA approved for migraine prophylaxis.

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Tricyclic Antidepressants

Class Summary

Amitriptyline, nortriptyline, doxepin, and protriptyline have been used for migraine prophylaxis, but only amitriptyline has proven efficacy and appears to exert its antimigraine effect independent of its effect on depression.

Amitriptyline

 

Amitriptyline has efficacy for migraine prophylaxis that is independent of its antidepressant effect. Its mechanism of action is unknown, but it inhibits activity of such diverse agents as histamine, 5-HT, and acetylcholine.

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Antiepileptics

Class Summary

These drugs are effective in prophylaxis of migraine headache.

Topiramate (Topamax)

 

Topiramate is indicated for migraine headache prophylaxis. Its precise mechanism of action is unknown, but the following properties may contribute to its efficacy: (1) blockage of voltage-dependent sodium channels, (2) augmentation of activity of the neurotransmitter GABA at some GABA-A receptor subtypes, (3) antagonization of the AMPA/kainate subtype of the glutamate receptor, and (4) inhibition of the carbonic anhydrase enzyme, particularly isozymes II and IV. Topiramate is also an excellent choice, in that one of its side effects is weight loss (a common association in IIH), which can help put the disease in remission.

Divalproex sodium/valproate (Depakote, Stavzor, Depacon, Depakene)

 

Divalproex is now considered first-line preventive medication for migraine. This agent is believed to enhance GABA neurotransmission, which may suppress events related to migraine that occur in cortex, perivascular sympathetics, or trigeminal nucleus caudalis. Divalproex has been shown to reduce migraine frequency by 50%.

Gabapentin (Neurontin)

 

Gabapentin is used for migraine headache prophylaxis. It has shown efficacy in migraine and transformed migraine.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Mark S Gans, MD Associate Professor, Director of Neuro-Ophthalmology, Interim Chair, Department of Ophthalmology, McGill University Faculty of Medicine; Clinical Director, Department of Ophthalmology, Adult Sites, McGill University Hospital Center, Canada

Mark S Gans, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, Canadian Medical Association, North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, Canadian Ophthalmological Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Andrew G Lee, MD Chair, Department of Ophthalmology, Houston Methodist Hospital; Clinical Professor, Associate Program Director, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, The University of Texas Medical Branch; Clinical Professor, Department of Surgery, Division of Head and Neck Surgery, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Professor of Ophthalmology, Neurology, and Neurological Surgery, Weill Medical College of Cornell University; Clinical Associate Professor, University of Buffalo, State University of New York School of Medicine

Andrew G Lee, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology, American Geriatrics Society, Houston Neurological Society, Houston Ophthalmological Society, International Council of Ophthalmology, North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, Pan-American Association of Ophthalmology, Texas Ophthalmological Association

Disclosure: Received ownership interest from Credential Protection for other.

Acknowledgements

Robert A Egan, MD Director of Neuro-Ophthalmology, St Helena Hospital

Robert A Egan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Heart Association, North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, and Oregon Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Eric R Eggenberger, DO, MS, FAAN Professor, Vice-Chairman, Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology, Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Human Medicine, Michigan State University; Director of Michigan State University Ocular Motility Laboratory; Director of National Multiple Sclerosis Society Clinic, Michigan State University

Eric R Eggenberger, DO, MS, FAAN is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Osteopathic Association, and North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

James Goodwin, MD Associate Professor, Departments of Neurology and Ophthalmology, University of Illinois College of Medicine; Director, Neuro-Ophthalmology Service, University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary

James Goodwin, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Neurology, Illinois State Medical Society, North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, and Royal Society of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Edsel Ing, MD, FRCSC Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences, University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Toronto East General Hospital, Canada

Edsel Ing, MD, FRCSC is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Canadian Ophthalmological Society, North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society, and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

Brian R Younge, MD Professor of Ophthalmology, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine

Brian R Younge, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association, American Ophthalmological Society, and North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Left optic disc with moderate chronic papilledema in a patient with idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri). Paton lines (arc-shaped retinal wrinkles concentric with the disc margin) are seen along the temporal side of the optic nerve head.
Right optic disc with postpapilledema optic atrophy in a patient with idiopathic intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri). Diffuse pallor of disc and absence of small arterial vessels on surface are noted, with very little disc elevation. Disc margin at upper and lower poles and nasally is obscured by some residual edema in nerve fiber layer and gliosis that often persists even after all edema has resolved.
Most common early visual field defect in papilledema as optic nerve develops optic atrophy is inferior nasal defect, as shown in left eye field chart (left side of figure). Shaded area indicates defective portion of field. Note sharp line of demarcation between defective lower nasal quadrant and normal upper nasal quadrant along horizontal midline. This is characteristic of early papilledema optic atrophy and is referred to as nasal step or inferonasal step.
 
 
 
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