Background: A recent development in non-invasive techniques to predict intracranial pressure (ICP) termed venous ophthalmodynamometry (vODM) has made measurements in absolute units possible. However, there has been little progress to show utility in the clinic or field. One important application would be to predict changes in actual ICP during adaptive responses to physiologic stress such as hypoxia. A causal relationship between raised intracranial pressure and acute mountain sickness (AMS) is suspected. Several MRI studies report that modest physiologic increases in cerebral volume, from swelling, normally accompany subacute ascent to simulated high altitudes.
Objectives: 1) Validate and calibrate an advanced, portable vODM instrument on intensive patients with raised intracranial pressure and 2) make pilot, non-invasive ICP estimations of normal subjects at increasing altitudes.
Methods: The vODM was calibrated against actual ICP in 12 neurosurgical patients, most affected with acute hydrocephalus and monitored using ventriculostomy/pressure transducers. The operator was blinded to the transducer read-out. A clinical field test was then conducted on a variable data set of 42 volunteer trekkers and climbers scaling Mt. Everest, Nepal. Mean ICPs were estimated at several altitudes on the ascent both across and within subjects.
Results: Portable vODM measurements increased directly and linearly with ICP resulting in good predictability (r = 0.85). We also found that estimated ICP increases normally with altitude (10 ± 3 mm Hg; sea level to 20 ± 2 mm Hg; 6553 m) and that AMS symptoms did not correlate with raised ICP.
Conclusion: vODM technology has potential to reliably estimate absolute ICP and is portable. Physiologic increases in ICP and mild-mod AMS are separate responses to high altitude, possibly reflecting swelling and vasoactive instability, respectively.