Signs of Increased Intracranial Pressure

When the pressure around your brain is increased, the condition is referred to as increased intracranial pressure or ICP. The cause may be an increase in the quantity of fluid that surrounds the brain. ICP can also imply that there is swelling of brain, either from a medical condition such as meningitis or from a brain injury. What's more, brain injury may occur as a result of increased intracranial pressure. ICP is a condition that may threaten life and a person manifesting symptoms of increased intracranial pressure may need emergency medical help.

Signs of Increased Intracranial Pressure

Brain swelling may lead to lingering effects. The signs and symptoms are based on the location and severity of the injury. Increased intracranial pressure is manifested by various signs and symptoms, including:

Signs of ICP in infants

  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Bulging fontanelle (the soft spot on top of the head bulges out)
  • Separation of the sutures of the skull
  • Changes in behavior
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced consciousness
  • Depression
  • Trouble sleep
  • Attention and thinking problem
  • Difficulty in communication
  • Other neurological symptoms such as numbness, weakness, double vision and problem in movement of eyes

Signs of ICP in children and adults

The symptoms and signs of increased intracranial pressure can be dealt with the help of your healthcare team. Some symptoms may decrease over time; however, some of them may need ongoing care and treatment.


A sudden increase in intracranial pressure is a serious medical condition that can very often become life-threatening. A better outlook comes from prompt treatments. If important structures of the brain or blood vessels are pushed by the increased intracranial pressure, serious or permanent problems may occur. It may even lead to death of the patient.


The common steps utilized by your physician in the diagnosis of increased intracranial pressure are based on the suspected cause and the signs and symptoms present.

  • Some common tests and exams may be used to identify the location and extent of the swelling, like exam of the head and neck, neurological exam, CT scan of the head, MRI of the head and certain blood tests.
  • The pressure of the CSF or cerebrospinal fluid may also be measured with spinal tap or lumbar puncture. The diagnosis may be confirmed by viewing the images of the brain in a brain CT or MRI.

How to Treat Increased Intracranial Pressure

Knowing the signs of increased intracranial pressure is not the final purpose, instead you have to know how to treat it. Minor brain swellings due to causes like slight concussion or moderate altitude sickness are often resolved within a few days. However, most cases require treatments.

The goal of treatment is to make sure that the brain get enough oxygen and blood so as to remain healthy and at the same time, to relieve swelling and treat any underlying cause. A combination of surgical and medical treatment may be used. When treatment is provided promptly, usually you can get prompt and complete recovery. Any of the following in combination may be required to treat brain swelling:

  • Oxygen therapy: Oxygen is given through a respirator to ensure that the blood oxygen concentration remains optimal and the swelling of the brain is reduced.
  • IV fluids can be given to prevent dropping of blood pressure to ensure your body and brain receive enough blood. However, swelling may be made worse by some fluids, so do turn to a doctor who will give you the right fluid with right dosage to soothe your condition.
  • Reducing body and brain temperature aids in relieving the swelling and helps in healing the brain. However, this treatment is not widely used to reduce signs of increased intracranial pressure because it is often not performed correctly.
  • Medicine sometimes can be used to reduce brain swelling. Medicine may also be given to dissolve blood clots and slow the body’s response to brain swelling. The drugs are prescribed on the basis of respective symptoms and causes.
  • Ventriculostomy is characterized by making a small hole in the skull and inserting a plastic drainage tube into it. The CSF or cerebrospinal fluid is removed from the inside of the brain, thereby helping reduce the pressure.
  • Surgery is performed to remove a part of the skull to reduce intracranial pressure which is done through a procedure referred to as decompressive craniectomy and to repair or remove the cause of the swelling, for instance removing a growth, or repairing a damaged vein or artery.
  • Prevention: Increased intracranial pressure can’t be prevented, but preventing head injuries can lower your risk. It is recommended to always wear a helmet while biking or playing contact sports. While driving, seatbelt should be worn and your seat should be kept as far as away as possible from the seat in in front or the dashboard. Always place a child into a safety seat while driving. 
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