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Obesity Behind Rise of 'Phantom' Brain Tumors in Children
Date:5/7/2010

Pressure build-up within skull causes chronic pain, experts say

FRIDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- At the age of 5, Lauren Ashley began complaining that "her eyes hurt."

An ophthalmologist who examined her suspected a brain tumor because of swelling of the optic nerve, which sends information from the retina to the brain.

"Looking back, we were so devastated by the news," said her mother, Diane Ashley. "What we didn't know then was that what was in store was, in some ways, worse. And I am in no way making light of brain tumors."

Lauren, now 15 and living in Gahanna, Ohio, was later diagnosed with a severe case of pseudotumor cerebri, a painful condition in which pressure inside the head builds for no apparent reason, potentially causing blindness.

Once found mostly among adults, pseudotumor cerebri seems to be rising among children -- and doctors say rising rates of obesity may be to blame. About two-thirds of children diagnosed with the condition are overweight or obese, although one-third, like Lauren, are of normal weight when diagnosed.

"There are no good data on how many children have it, but we believe the reason we seem to see so much of it these days is the increase in obesity among children," said Dr. E. Steve Roach, chief of neurology and vice chair of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Nationwide is currently treating about 80 children with the disorder, Roach said. The spike in children with the condition led Roach and his colleagues to establish what's believed to be the nation's first pseudotumor cerebri clinic geared toward children. The clinic, which just opened, will have an ophthalmologist, neurologist and endocrinologist or weight-loss specialist to provide comprehensive treatment.

Pseudotumor cerebri, sometimes called "phantom tumor," got its name decades ago. Patients would come to the doctor with headaches and swelling of th
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