What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus and congenital hydrocephalus facts

Hydrocephalus is the buildup of too much cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Normally, this fluid cushions your brain. When you have too much, though, it puts harmful pressure on your brain.

There are two kinds of hydrocephalus. Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth. Causes include genetic problems and problems with how the fetus develops. An unusually large head is the main sign of congenital hydrocephalus. Acquired hydrocephalus can occur at any age. Causes can include head injuries, strokes, infections, tumors and bleeding in the brain. Symptoms of acquired hydrocephalus can include:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Blurry vision
  • Balance problems
  • Bladder control problems
  • Thinking and memory problems

Hydrocephalus can permanently damage the brain, causing problems with physical and mental development. If untreated, it is usually fatal. With treatment, many people lead normal lives with few limitations. Treatment usually involves surgery to insert a shunt. Medicine and rehabilitation therapy can also help.

SOURCE: NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Hydrocephalus facts

*Hydrocephalus facts medical author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

  • Hydrocephalus is a condition characterized by excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain.
  • Hydrocephalus may be congenital or acquired.
  • Communicating hydrocephalus occurs when cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) can still flow among the ventricles.
  • Noncommunicating hydrocephalus, also called "obstructive" hydrocephalus, occurs when the flow of CSF is blocked.
  • Hydrocephalus affects about 1 out of every 500 children.
  • The most obvious indication of hydrocephalus in children and infants is often a rapid increase in head circumference or an unusually large head size. Other symptoms may include vomiting, sleepiness, irritability, downward deviation of the eyes (also called "sunsetting"), and seizures.
  • Older children and adults may experience different symptoms because their skulls cannot expand to accommodate the buildup of CSF.
  • Symptoms in older patients may include headache followed by vomiting, nausea, papilledema (swelling of the optic disk which is part of the optic nerve), blurred or double vision, urinary incontinence, lethargy, drowsiness, irritability, or other changes in personality or cognition.
  • The causes of hydrocephalus are poorly understood.
  • Hydrocephalus is most often treated by surgically inserting a shunt system.
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