Hydrocephalus - Signs and Symptoms

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What were the signs and symptoms associated with hydrocephalus in someone you know?

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What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

Symptoms of hydrocephalus vary with age, disease progression, and individual differences in tolerance to the condition. For example, an infant's ability to compensate for increased CSF pressure and enlargement of the ventricles differs from an adult's. The infant skull can expand to accommodate the buildup of CSF because the sutures (the fibrous joints that connect the bones of the skull) have not yet closed.

In infancy, the most obvious indication of hydrocephalus 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 may include headache followed by vomiting, nausea, papilledema (swelling of the optic disk which is part of the optic nerve), blurred or double vision, sunsetting of the eyes, problems with balance, poor coordination, gait disturbance, urinary incontinence, slowing or loss of developmental progress, lethargy, drowsiness, irritability, or other changes in personality or cognition including memory loss.

Symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus include, problems with walking, impaired bladder control leading to urinary frequency and/or incontinence, and progressive mental impairment and dementia. An individual with this type of hydrocephalus may have a general slowing of movements or may complain that his or her feet feel "stuck." Because some of these symptoms may also be experienced in other disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, normal pressure hydrocephalus is often incorrectly diagnosed and never properly treated. Doctors may use a variety of tests, including brain scans (CT and/or MRI), a spinal tap or lumbar catheter, intracranial pressure monitoring, and neuropsychological tests, to help them accurately diagnose normal pressure hydrocephalus and rule out any other conditions.

The symptoms described in this section account for the most typical ways in which progressive hydrocephalus manifests itself, but it is important to remember that symptoms vary significantly from one person to the next.

Return to Hydrocephalus

See what others are saying

Comment from: worried daughter, 65-74 Female (Caregiver) Published: June 05

My mom lost her baMy mom lost her balance quite often and sometimes fell; she would phone me six times a day and speak to me as if it were her first call, often repeating conversations. Her short-term memory became poor. Then she couldn't walk right. She would end up running until she could stop herself at a wall or a doorway or fall to her knees. A wonderful doctor diagnosed the trouble with a CT scan and inserted a shunt. The problem went away and I had my mother back instantly!

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Comment from: bethd, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: March 18

I first started with gait issues - short, choppy steps that got faster as I continued walking - almost to the point of running. I was also experiencing balance issues, including falling. I had a neurologist who sent me to a neurosurgeon who eventually diagnosed hydrocephalus and placed a shunt in my brain. Though I still have issues with my balance, I at least am no longer falling!

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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