What Is Hydrocephalus?
is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain
to swell. The name means “water on the brain.”
damage can occur as a result of the fluid buildup. This can lead to developmental,
physical, and intellectual impairments. It requires treatment to prevent
mainly occurs in children and adults over 60, but younger adults can get it
too. The National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) estimates that 1 to 2 of every 1,000 babies are born
What Causes Hydrocephalus?
fluid (CSF) flows through your brain and spinal cord in normal conditions.
Under certain conditions, the amount of CSF in your brain increases. The
amount of CSF can increase when:
blockage develops that prevents CSF from flowing normally
is a decrease in the ability of blood vessels to absorb it
- your brain produces an excess amount of it
much of this fluid puts your brain under too much pressure. This pressure can
cause brain swelling, which can damage your brain tissue.
some cases, hydrocephalus starts before a baby is born. This can result from:
birth defect in which the spinal column doesn’t close
- certain infections that occur during pregnancy, such as
condition can also occur in infants, toddlers, and older children due to:
nervous system infections such as meningitis, especially in babies
in the brain during or shortly after delivery, especially in babies born
that occur before, during, or after delivery
- central nervous system tumors
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
hydrocephalus occurs in adults, CSF levels rise but the amount of pressure is
usually normal. It still causes the brain to swell and can lead to impaired
functioning. In adults, this condition usually results from conditions that
prevent CSF from flowing. However, in some cases, there is no known cause.
might be at higher risk if you have experienced any of the following:
infections such as meningitis
from a blood vessel in your brain
- brain surgery
Recognizing Potential Signs of Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus can cause permanent brain
damage, so it’s
important that you recognize symptoms of this condition and seek medical
attention. The condition is more common in children, but it can happen at any age.
signs of hydrocephalus in infants include:
fontanel, or soft spot on the surface of the skull
rapid increase in head circumference
that are fixed downward
- low muscle tone and strength
Toddlers and Older Children
or signs that affect toddlers and older children include:
in facial structure
of bladder control
than normal head
staying awake or waking up
- problems concentrating
Young and Middle-Aged Adults
Symptoms in young and middle-aged adults
- poor memory
- difficulty concentrating
Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)
form of the condition usually begins slowly and is more common in adults over
the age of 60. One of the earliest signs is falling suddenly without losing
consciousness. Other common symptoms of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)
in the way you walk
mental functions, such as memory problems
How Is Hydrocephalus Diagnosed?
you suspect that you or your child has hydrocephalus, your doctor will perform
a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms. In children, doctors check for eyes
that are sunken in, slow reflexes, a bulging fontanel, and a head circumference
that is larger than normal for their age.
doctor may also use an ultrasound to get a closer look at the brain. These
tests use high-frequency sound waves to create images of the brain.
resonance imaging (MRI) scans can be used to look for signs of excess CSF. MRIs
use a magnetic field and radio waves to make a cross-sectional image of the
tomography (CT) scans can also help diagnose hydrocephalus in children and
adults. CT scans use several different X-rays to form a cross-sectional image
of the brain. These scans can show enlarged brain ventricles that result from
too much CSF.
How Is Hydrocephalus Treated?
can be fatal if it’s left untreated. Treatment may not
reverse brain damage that’s already occurred. The goal is to
prevent further brain damage. This involves restoring the normal flow of CSF.
Your doctor may explore either of the following surgical options:
most cases, a shunt is surgically inserted. The shunt is a drainage system made
of a long tube with a valve. The valve helps CSF flow at a normal rate and in
the right direction. Your doctor inserts one end of the tube in your brain and
the other end into your chest or abdominal cavity. Excess fluid then drains
from the brain and out the other end of the tube, where it can be more easily
absorbed. A shunt implant is typically permanent and has to be monitored
procedure called a ventriculostomy can be performed as an alternative to having
a shunt inserted. This involves making a hole at the bottom of a ventricle or
in between ventricles. This allows CSF to leave the brain.
What Is the Outlook for a Person with Hydrocephalus?
outlook for someone suffering from hydrocephalus depends largely on the extent
of the symptoms. Many children suffer lifelong brain damage. By working with
professionals including pediatricians, special education teachers, mental
health providers, occupational therapists, developmental therapists, and
pediatric neurologists, children can learn to manage their disability and
lessen the lifelong effects.
with severe symptoms of hydrocephalus might need to work with occupational
therapists. Others may require long-term care. Some might need the care of medical
specialists who focus on dementia.
long-term effects of this condition vary widely, depending on individual
circumstances. Talk to your doctor for a more case-specific outlook.
Reducing Your Risk of Hydrocephalus
can’t prevent hydrocephalus, but you can
lower your risk and your child’s risk for developing the condition.
sure you get prenatal care during pregnancy. This can help reduce your chance
of going into premature labor, which can lead to hydrocephalus.
vaccinations can help prevent illnesses and infections that are linked to
hydrocephalus. Having regular screenings can also ensure that you get prompt
treatment for illnesses or infections that could put you at risk of
safety equipment, such as helmets, to prevent head injuries when doing
activities like riding a bike. You can also lower your risk of head injuries by
always wearing a seat belt.
children should always be secured in a car seat. You can also prevent head
injuries by making sure your baby equipment, such as strollers, meets safety