Foster Kennedy Syndrome – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Foster -Kennedy syndrome is characterized by a combination of increased intracranial pressure and compressed optic nerve. The disease is often due to neoplasms, especially in the frontal lobe of the brain. The causal treatment is therefore primarily aimed at removing the tumor.

What is Foster Kennedy Syndrome?

Foster-Kennedy syndrome is a disease characterized by two features: increased intracranial pressure and compression of an optic nerve. In medicine, intracranial pressure is the pressure that prevails in the brain. It includes both the pressure of the blood vessels and the pressure of the fluid in the tissue.

In a healthy person, intracranial pressure is between 5 and 15 mmHg. Robert Foster Kennedy first described the disease in 1911. The neurologist lived in both Ireland and the USA and was one of the first doctors to use electroconvulsive therapy in psychotic patients. He also endeavored to explain war neuroses and became President of the American Neurological Association in 1940.


A tumor in the brain is responsible for the development of Foster-Kennedy syndrome. The neoplasm sits at the base of the frontal lobe, which forms the front (frontal) area of ​​the cerebrum. The frontal lobe directs movements and controls cognitive processes. It also influences higher psychological abilities such as social behavior, creativity, self-control and action planning.

The neoplasm itself damages the body indirectly in Foster-Kennedy syndrome; the symptoms arise because the tumor grows and, as a result, requires more space. It presses on the optic nerve, which is on the same side as the tumor. The mass compresses the optic nerve, which cuts off the supply of nutrients. As a result, it atrophies, which means it wastes away.

Medicine refers to this symptom as ipsilateral (lying on the same side) optic nerve atrophy . At the same time, a congested papilla forms on the other side (contralateral). This is edema that forms where the optic nerve touches the retina. The growing tumor also ensures that intracranial pressure increases: it changes the relationship between volume and mass in the skull.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The signs of Foster-Kennedy syndrome are primarily caused by increased intracranial pressure. If it rises, symptoms such as nausea and vomiting first appear , which those affected often mistake for acute gastrointestinal complaints . In addition, there are potential vigilance disorders, headaches , fatigue and quantitative disorders of consciousness up to and including coma . The heartbeat may slow down .

Medicine speaks of bradycardia when the rate drops to less than 60 heartbeats per minute in an adult. At the same time, blood pressure can rise. Bradycardia and high blood pressure are due to what is known as the Cushing reflex. The increasing intracranial pressure impairs blood flow to the brain. This condition is critical for the human body because the nerve and ganglion cells no longer receive enough oxygen and other nutrients.

If the cells are starved for too long, they eventually die. You cannot regenerate. To avoid this, the Cushing reflex takes effect: it increases blood pressure in order to balance the ratio of blood pressure to intracranial pressure. The blood pressure can reach peak values ​​of 300 mmHg (systolic).

It may show up as headaches, dizziness , nausea, and trouble sleeping , but it can also present without symptoms. Since Foster-Kennedy syndrome also affects the optic nerves, sufferers often suffer from visual disturbances .


The diagnosis is made by doctors determining the two cardinal symptoms of Foster-Kennedy syndrome. A measuring probe in the tissue can measure the intracranial pressure. However, this measurement is relatively prone to errors, since the intracranial pressure can vary greatly in the individual areas of the tissue. In relation to this, the examination of the optic nerve is easier. Optical methods are able to reveal its condition.

A detailed anamnesis helps with the diagnosis of the Foster-Kennedy syndrome as well as the diagnosis of the individual symptoms. Imaging procedures such as CT or MRI can make the tumor visible. Depending on the type of neoplasm and the individual conditions, healing is possible if the tumor can be completely removed.


As a rule, complications such as vomiting, headaches or nausea occur with Foster-Kennedy syndrome, as are common with a number of clinical pictures. For this reason, Foster-Kennedy syndrome is not directly identified. The affected person often suffers from stomach pain or symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection.

Tiredness also sets in, which can rarely be compensated for with sleep. If Foster-Kennedy syndrome progresses and is not treated, impaired consciousness will manifest itself. In the worst case, these can slow down the heartbeat and lead to a comatose state. As a result of the syndrome, the brain is no longer supplied with sufficient oxygen, which is why certain nerves can be damaged and, in the worst case, die.

This can lead to disabilities or mental impairments of the patient. Vision problems and sleep disturbances are also common. In many cases, the tumor can be removed so that Foster-Kennedy syndrome can be treated completely.

If a coma has occurred, the patient is usually kept alive and given medication. Life expectancy is sharply decreasing due to Foster-Kennedy syndrome. If the tumor has already spread throughout the body, the syndrome becomes untreatable and leads to death.

When should you go to the doctor?

Since Foster-Kennedy syndrome is the occurrence of a tumor, medical treatment and examination is always necessary. This can prevent the patient from dying prematurely. A doctor should be consulted if the person concerned suffers from constant vomiting and nausea without a specific reason.

Severe headaches, permanent tiredness and stomach and intestinal problems can also indicate Foster-Kennedy syndrome and must always be examined. Those affected can also lose consciousness and often suffer from a slow heartbeat.

At the same time, high blood pressure is also evident. If this remains high for a longer period of time, a visit to the doctor is also recommended. Visual disturbances, sleep disorders or severe dizziness are also among the symptoms of Foster-Kennedy syndrome.

The syndrome is usually diagnosed and treated in a hospital setting. The earlier the tumor is discovered and can be removed, the higher the probability of a positive course of the disease. Since the syndrome can lead to psychological problems in the patient and his relatives, additional treatment by a psychologist is advisable.

Treatment & Therapy

The treatment of Foster-Kennedy syndrome depends on various factors. Basically, doctors have to weigh up which form of treatment or which combination of therapies makes the most sense in each individual case. For example, the size of the tumor, its location and its behavior play a major role. The benefits and risks of each treatment option vary greatly between different individuals.

Surgeons can remove the neoplasm if there are no contraindications and the tumor is easily accessible. A corresponding operation separates out the diseased tissue as carefully as possible without also removing healthy brain tissue. Another option is radiation. If the appropriate conditions are met, a combination of the two forms of therapy may also make sense. Doctors also treat the individual symptoms that occur as part of Foster-Kennedy syndrome.

A particular challenge is quantitative disorders of consciousness; Patients who are in a coma require intensive care. But even less severe disturbances of consciousness can make it necessary for those affected to depend on help from other people – for example when taking medication regularly.

Outlook & Forecast

Foster-Kennedy syndrome is a result of a tumor in the human brain. Since it is not a causative disease, the prognosis of the syndrome depends on the treatability of the underlying tumor. If medical care is not sought, the brain tumor will continue to grow. In addition, the cancer cells can spread further in the organism via the human bloodstream and lead to the spread of the cancer. The result is the premature death of the person concerned.

If the brain tumor develops in an unfavorable position or if the stage of the cancer is already very advanced, it is often no longer possible to guarantee adequate medical care. The focus of therapy in these patients is pain relief.

If the brain tumor is detected and treated early, there is a chance of a cure. The tumor is surgically removed. This is followed by cancer therapy to prevent cancer cells from forming again. If the treatment proceeds without complications, recovery can occur. Nevertheless, consequences and a longer healing path are to be expected. Many patients have lifelong impairments. In addition, despite all efforts, the brain tumor can recur at any time, leading to Foster-Kennedy syndrome.


There is no direct prevention of Foster-Kennedy syndrome. Early detection of the disease can avoid more serious complications. If the tumor is already very large, it may make it difficult or even impossible to remove it.


Follow-up care for Foster-Kennedy syndrome depends on whether the causative tumor can be treated and successfully removed. If this is not the case because of the late discovery time or metastasis, there is a risk of blindness and death. In the follow-up care, the only thing left to do is try to make the remaining days of life as pain-free and suffering-free as possible.

However, if the triggering tumor can be successfully irradiated, treated with chemotherapy and then operated on, the follow-up care for Foster-Kennedy syndrome looks different. In the aftercare phase, care must be taken to ensure that the compressed optic nerve can recover and the intracranial pressure is relieved. In addition, the operation of the expansive tumor can leave serious after-effects. The extent to which these can be repaired depends on the individual case.

The problem is that the triggering tumor is often only discovered at a later stage because of the insidious onset of symptoms. The symptoms of Foster-Kennedy syndrome initially seem to indicate other disorders. These are often not considered dangerous. This usually delays the first visit to the doctor.

Once the tumor is identified as the cause of Foster-Kennedy syndrome, treatment is often successful. However, metastases may already have formed. Damage to the optic nerve and brain can be irreparable. In this case, the follow-up successes cannot be as effective as with early detection.

You can do that yourself

As a rule, the options for self-help in Foster-Kennedy syndrome are relatively severely limited. The success of the treatment and the further course of the disease depend heavily on the severity of the tumor. The earlier this is detected, the higher the probability of a positive course of the disease.

In many cases, those affected need psychological treatment . Discussions with closest friends or relatives can also have a very positive effect on the course of the disease. Talking to other people affected or to other cancer patients can also alleviate psychological symptoms.

Since Foster-Kennedy syndrome also leads to permanent tiredness and exhaustion in the patient, family and friends should support them in their everyday lives. The person concerned should take it easy on their body and not engage in strenuous activities. The regular intake of medication should also be checked by the family.

Since the patient’s relatives often also suffer from psychological complaints or depression, psychological treatment is also advisable for these people. In this way, serious upsets can be avoided.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.