Papilledema is used to denote a swelling of the optic nerve head (disc) resulting from raised intracranial pressure. There is a lack of inflammation, infiltration or infection of the optic nerve itself. Any edema of optic nerve head arising from causes other than increased intracranial pressure is termed optic disc edema, and not papilledema.
A patient with papilledema presents with symptoms of increased intracranial pressure like headache and brief transient obscuration of vision. The headache is characteristic of increased intracranial pressure, worse on awakening and exacerbated by coughing. There can also be nausea and vomiting if the intracranial pressure is very high. A pulsatile tinnitus is sometimes present .
Visual acuity is usually well preserved. Some patients may have monocular or binocular visual blackouts that last for a few seconds, especially when rising from a recumbent position to a sitting or standing position. There may be transient flickering of lights, dyschromatopsia and constriction of the visual field. Relative afferent pupillary defect is usually absent. Fundus examination shows bilateral signs of optic disc edema like blurring of the optic disc margins, filling in of the optic disc cup, edema of the nerve fiber layer, retinal or choroidal folds, venous congestion, peripapillary hemorrhages, cotton-wool spots, hyperemia of the optic nerve head and hard exudates of the optic disc .
Apart from a detailed fundus examination, fundus fluorescein angiography may help in the diagnosis of papilledema. B-scan ultrasonography of the eye may be helpful in ruling out buried disc drusen. Visual fields should be tested, especially in chronic cases.
As soon as papilledema is diagnosed, urgent neuroimaging is required. Computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain with contrast are required to detect an intracranial mass lesion. At times, magnetic resonance venography may be required to detect venous sinus thrombosis. If MRI fails to show a lesion, a lumbar puncture should be performed to assess the opening pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid and to obtain fluid sample for histopathological and microbiological analysis .
Blood tests have limited value except when required to rule out infectious, inflammatory or metabolic causes. In such cases, complete blood count, blood sugar, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and syphilis serology may be done.
The treatment of papilledema associated with visual loss depends largely on the cause, symptoms, signs, and progression of the underlying condition. Medical treatment usually consists of diuretics, especially carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. Weight reduction in obese patients with idiopathic intracranial hypertension is recommended. Serial lumbar punctures may also be effective in lowering the intracranial pressure. Corticosteroids may be useful in sarcoidosis. If medical treatment is not sufficient, optic nerve sheath decompression or a ventriculo- or lumboperitoneal shunt may need to be carried out  .
The prognosis for papilledema depends on the cause. Patients with metastatic brain tumors have the worst prognosis. Individuals suffering from ventricular obstructive disease may have a better prognosis with successful shunting. Patients with idiopathic intracranial hypertension usually have the best outcomes. The diagnosis of papilledema requires a prompt workup with neurological, neurosurgical, or neuroradiologic consultations. Long-standing papilledema leads to irreversible visual loss in the form of secondary optic atrophy, constriction of visual fields and poor color vision .
Common causes of increased intracranial pressure leading to papilledema are :
Papilledema affects both sexes equally and can present at any age. During infancy elevated intracranial pressure may not lead to papilledema because the fontanels are not closed. Among young adults, papilledema is more likely to be caused by idiopathic intracranial hypertension than by a tumor. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension is often seen in obese, young women . Intracranial masses most commonly cause papilledema in adults.
The subarachnoid space of the brain is continuous with the optic nerve sheath. Therefor conditions increasing the intracranial pressure can lead to compression of optic nerve leading to papilledema. Usually a combination of mechanical and vascular factors results in edema, ischemia, and eventual visual impairment or loss .
Sometimes a patient may be asymptomatic and papilledema may be detected incidentally. However, on detection of papilledema, urgent neurological workup is important to save vision and/or life. Patients with known etiological factors should have regular fundus examination or relevant neurological follow up. For chronic conditions, follow up can prevent or detect in time any future occurrences of papilledema.
Papilledema is the swelling of the optic nerve head in the absence of any other optic nerve pathology, due to elevated intracranial pressure usually from causes like intracranial tumors and idiopathic intracranial hypertension.
The vision in papilledema is usually well preserved till late in the course of the disease, unlike in the other causes of optic nerve head swelling. The signs and symptoms are typical for increased intracranial tension such as nausea, vomiting, headache, transient obscuration of vision and diplopia. The treatment is directed at management of the underlying cause of elevated intracranial pressure. Diuretics may be given for decreasing the intracranial pressure. Early treatment and resolution of papilledema leads to complete visual recovery. Long-standing or severe papilledema may result in bilateral optic nerve dysfunction and secondary optic atrophy .