Papilledema is a sign of elevated intracranial pressure and is almost always bilateral. Causes include the following:
In patients with papilledema, vision is usually not affected initially, but seconds-long graying out of vision, flickering, or blurred or double vision may occur. Patients may have symptoms of increased intracranial pressure, such as headache or nausea and vomiting. Pain is absent.
Ophthalmoscopic examination reveals engorged and tortuous retinal veins, a hyperemic and swollen optic disk (optic nerve head), and retinal hemorrhages around the disk but not into the retinal periphery. Isolated disk edema (eg, caused by optic neuritis or ischemic optic neuropathy) without the retinal findings indicative of elevated cerebrospinal fluid pressure is not considered papilledema (unless the intracranial pressure is elevated on concurrent lumbar puncture).
In the early stages of papilledema, visual acuity and pupillary response to light are usually normal and become abnormal only after the condition is well advanced. Visual field testing may detect an enlarged blind spot. Later, visual field testing may show defects typical of nerve fiber bundle defects and loss of peripheral vision.
The degree of disk swelling can be quantified by comparing the plus lens numbers needed to focus an ophthalmoscope on the most elevated portion of the disk and on the unaffected portion of the retina. Swelling can also be quantified by measuring nerve fiber layer thickness using optical coherence tomography (OCT); OCT is done to quantify the degree of papilledema so that changes can be monitored.
Differentiating papilledema from other causes of a swollen optic disk, such as optic neuritis, ischemic optic neuropathy, hypotony, central retinal vein occlusion, uveitis, or pseudo swollen disks (eg, optic nerve drusen), requires a thorough ophthalmologic evaluation. If papilledema is suspected clinically, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with gadolinium contrast or computed tomography (CT) with contrast is done immediately to exclude causes such as an intracranial mass or dural venous sinus thrombosis. Lumbar puncture with measurement of CSF pressure and analysis of CSF should be done if a mass lesion has been ruled out. Lumbar puncture in patients with intracranial mass lesions can result in brain stem herniation. B-scan ultrasonography and fundus autofluorescence are the best diagnostic tools for the pseudo disk edema of optic nerve drusen.
Papilledema indicates increased intracranial pressure.
In addition to bilateral hyperemic and swollen optic disks (optic nerve heads), patients typically have engorged and tortuous retinal veins, and retinal hemorrhages around the disk but not into the retinal periphery.
Funduscopic abnormalities usually precede visual disturbances.
Do immediate neuroimaging and, if no mass lesion is seen, obtain CSF for analysis and measure CSF pressure with a lumbar puncture.
Treat the underlying disorder.