Anemia and papilledema

Am J Ophthalmol. 2003 Apr;135(4):437-46. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9394(02)02062-7.


Purpose: To elucidate the relationship between anemia and raised intracranial pressure (ICP).

Design: Interventional case series.

Methods: Retrospective case series and review of the literature. Only patients with documented papilledema, neuroimaging ruling out a space-occupying lesion, and anemia were included.

Results: Five women with confirmed idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) (normal brain magnetic resonance imaging, normal cerebrospinal fluid, elevated intracranial pressure), and one man with presumed IIH (normal head computed tomography [CT], no lumbar puncture) were evaluated. All had bilateral papilledema associated with peripapillary hemorrhages. Two had retinal cotton-wool spots (CWS), and two had preretinal hemorrhages. All had severe iron deficiency anemia, which was discovered at the time of their ocular complaints in five of them. Their symptoms and signs improved dramatically after treatment of the anemia. We found 30 well-documented cases in the English and French literature. Among those, 13 were excluded from our analyses (11 had confounding disorders, and two had cerebral venous thrombosis). In the remaining 17 cases, isolated raised ICP associated with anemia was the most likely diagnosis, although in none of these cases was cerebral venous thrombosis excluded.

Conclusions: Anemia may play a role in the occurrence of raised ICP and papilledema. Although only a few cases in the literature support this association, it may be more common than previously thought. Because most patients are not known to be anemic when papilledema is discovered, we suggest that a complete blood count be obtained in patients with IIH, especially in the absence of known associated factors such as obesity or medications or when treatment aimed at lowering ICP fails to improve the patient's symptoms. The underlying mechanisms remain unknown, but cerebral venous thrombosis should be carefully excluded.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / complications
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / diagnosis
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / drug therapy
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hypertension / diagnosis
  • Intracranial Hypertension / etiology
  • Intracranial Pressure
  • Intraocular Pressure
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Papilledema / complications
  • Papilledema / diagnosis
  • Papilledema / drug therapy
  • Papilledema / physiopathology*
  • Retinal Hemorrhage / diagnosis
  • Retinal Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed