Elevated intracranial pressure detected by bedside emergency ultrasonography of the optic nerve sheath

Michael Blaivas, Daniel Theodoro, Paul R. Sierzenski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

233 Scopus citations


Patients with altered level of consciousness may be suffering from elevated intracranial pressure (EICP) from a variety of causes. A rapid, portable, and noninvasive means of detecting EICP is desirable when conventional imaging methods are unavailable. Objectives: The hypothesis of this study was that ultrasound (US) measurement of the optic nerve sheath diameter (ONSD) could accurately predict the presence of EICP. Methods: The authors performed a prospective, blinded observational study on emergency department (ED) patients with a suspicion of EICP due to possible focal intracranial pathology. The study was conducted at a large community ED with an emergency medicine residency program and took place over a six-month period. Patients suspected of having EICP by an ED attending were enrolled when study physicians were available. Unstable patients were excluded. ONSD was measured 3 mm behind the globe using a 10-MHz linear probe on the closed eyelids of supine patients, bilaterally. Based on prior literature, an ONSD above 5 mm on ultrasound was considered abnormal. Computed tomography (CT) findings defined as indicative of EICP were the presence of mass effect with a midline shift 3 mm or more, a collapsed third ventricle, hydrocephalus, the effacement of sulci with evidence of significant edema, and abnormal mesencephalic cisterns. For each patient, the average of the two ONSD measurements was calculated and his or her head CT scans were evaluated for signs of EICP. Student's t-test was used to compare ONSDs in the normal and EICP groups. Sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values were calculated. Results: Thirty-five patients were enrolled; 14 had CT results consistent with EICP. All cases of CT-determined EICP were correctly predicted by ONSD over 5 mm on US. One patient with ONSD of 5.7 mm in one eye and 3.7 mm in the other on US had a mass abutting the ipsilateral optic nerve; no shift was seen on CT. He was placed in the EICP category on his data collection sheet. The mean ONSD for the 14 patients with CT evidence of EICP was 6.27 mm (95% CI = 5.6 to 6.89); the mean ONSD for the others was 4.42 mm (95% CI = 4.15 to 4.72). The difference of 1.85 mm (95% CI = 1.23 to 2.39 mm) yielded a p = 0.001. The sensitivity and specificity for ONSD, when compared with CT results, were 100% and 95%, respectively. The positive and negative predictive values were 93% and 100%, respectively. Conclusions: Despite small numbers and selection bias, this study suggests that bedside ED US may be useful in the diagnosis of EICP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)376-381
Number of pages6
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2003


  • Elevated intracranial pressure
  • Emergency medicine
  • Emergency ultrasonography
  • Head injury
  • Ocular ultrasound
  • Sub-arachnoid hemorrhage


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