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Papilledema: Wikis


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Classification and external resources

Fundal photograph showing severe papilloedema in the right eye
ICD-10 H47.1
ICD-9 377.0
DiseasesDB 9580
eMedicine oph/187
MeSH D010211

Papilledema (or papilloedema) is optic disc swelling that is caused by increased intracranial pressure. The swelling is usually bilateral but can be unilateral which is extremely rare and can occur over a period of hours to weeks.

In intracranial hypertension papilledema can occur in only one eye or it can be more severe in one eye than the other or may not occur at all despite evidence of raised intracranial hypertension. When papilledema is present it is a pathological state and requires investigation to prevent loss of vision. Papilledema can often be a tell tale sign of intracranial hypertension. When there is papilledema in one eye one must also be sure that there is no local problem in the orbit (eye socket) that is causing unilateral papilledema. For example a tumor of the optic nerve behind the eyeball can also cause such swelling or blockage of circulation in the eye socket. It is important to have ultrasound and MRI studies to be


Signs and symptoms

Papilledema may be asymptomatic in the early stages. However it may progress to enlargement of the blind spot, blurring of vision, visual obscurations (inability to see in a particular part of the visual field for a period of time) and ultimately total loss of vision may occur

The signs of papilledema that are seen using an ophthalmoscope include

  • venous engorgement (usually the first signs)
  • loss of venous pulsation
  • hemorrhages over and / or adjacent to the optic disc
  • blurring of optic margins
  • elevation of optic disc
  • Paton's lines = radial retinal lines cascading from the optic disc
  • Headaches

On visual field examination, the physician may elicit an enlarged blind spot; the visual acuity may remain relatively intact until papilledema is severe or prolonged.


Checking the eyes for signs of papilledema should be carried out whenever there is a clinical suspicion of raised intracranial pressure, and is recommended in newly onset headaches. This may be done by ophthalmoscopy or slit lamp examination.



As the optic nerve sheath is continuous with the subarachnoid space of the brain (and is regarded as an extension of the central nervous system), increased pressure is transmitted through to the optic nerve. The brain itself is relatively spared from pathological consequences of high pressure. However, the anterior end of the optic nerve stops abruptly at the eye. Hence the pressure is asymmetrical and this causes a pinching and protrusion of the optic nerve at its head. The fibers of the retinal ganglion cells of the optic disc become engorged and bulge anteriorly. Persistent and extensive optic nerve head swelling, or optic disc edema, can lead to loss of these fibers and permanent visual impairment.


The treatment depends largely on the underlying cause. For instance, raised intracranial pressure may improve with glucocorticoids, acetazolamide or surgical shunting.


  1. ^ Cameron AJ (1933). "Marked papilloedema in pulmonary emphysema". Br J Ophthalmol 17 (3): 167–9. doi:10.1136/bjo.17.3.167. PMID 18169104.   Full text at PMC: 511527

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