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Definition of Papilledema

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Papilledema: Swelling of the head of the optic nerve, a sign of increased intracranial pressure. The optic nerve head, also called the optic disk or papilla, is the area where the optic nerve (the nerve that carries messages from the eye to the brain) enters the eyeball.

The finding of papilledema is made with the ophthalmoscope (the instrument that shines light through the pupil illuminating the retina while the doctor looks through it). The optic nerve head is abnormally elevated in papilledema, almost always in both eyes.

The causes of papilledema include cerebral edema (swelling of the brain, as from encephalitis or trauma), tumors and other lesions that occupy space within the skull, increased production of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), decreased resorption of CSF (due to venous sinus thrombosis, meningitis, or subarachnoid hemorrhage), obstruction of the ventricular system within the brain, hydrocephalus, craniosynostosis (premature closure of the sutures of the skull), and a condition called pseudotumor cerebri.

The finding of papilledema requires immediate further evaluation and, if need be, intervention. Also known as a choked disk.

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Reviewed on 12/12/2018

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