Sinus venous stenosis-associated idiopathic intracranial hypertension without papilledema as a powerful risk factor for progression and refractoriness of headache

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2012 Jun;16(3):261-9. doi: 10.1007/s11916-012-0254-2.


Data from two recent studies strongly support the hypothesis that idiopathic intracranial hypertension without papilledema (IIHWOP) could represent a powerful risk factor for the progression of pain in primary headache individuals. The first study highlights that an asymptomatic IIHWOP is much more prevalent than believed in the general population and occurs only in central venous stenosis carriers. In the second study, about one half of a large consecutive series of unresponsive primary chronic headache patients shows significant sinus venous stenosis. A continuous or intermittent IIHWOP was detectable in 91% of this subgroup and in no patient with normal venography. Moreover, after the lumbar puncture, a 2- to 4-week improvement in headache frequency was observed in most of the intracranial hypertensive patients. These findings strongly suggest that patients prone to primary headache who carry central venous outflow abnormalities are at high risk of developing a comorbid IIHWOP, which in turn is responsible for the progression and the unresponsiveness of the pain. Based on the available literature data, we propose that central sinus stenosis-related IIHWOP, although highly prevalent among otherwise healthy people, represents an important modifiable risk factor for the progression and refractoriness of pain in patients predisposed to primary headache. The mechanism could refer to up to one half of the primary chronic headache patients with minimal response to treatments referring to specialized headache clinics. Due to the clinical and taxonomic relevance of this hypothesis further studies are urgently needed.

MeSH terms

  • Comorbidity
  • Disease Progression
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / epidemiology*
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / etiology*
  • Headache Disorders, Primary / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Obesity / complications
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Prevalence
  • Pseudotumor Cerebri / complications*
  • Pseudotumor Cerebri / epidemiology*
  • Pseudotumor Cerebri / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / complications
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology
  • Social Class