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What is hydrocephalus?

The term hydrocephalus is derived from the Greek words "hydro" meaning water and "cephalus" meaning head. As the name implies, it is a condition in which the primary characteristic is excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. Although hydrocephalus was once known as "water on the brain," the "water" is actually cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)--a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The excessive accumulation of CSF results in an abnormal widening of spaces in the brain called ventricles. This widening creates potentially harmful pressure on the tissues of the brain.

The ventricular system is made up of four ventricles connected by narrow passages.. Normally, CSF flows through the ventricles, exits into cisterns (closed spaces that serve as reservoirs) at the base of the brain, bathes the surfaces of the brain and spinal cord, and then reabsorbs into the bloodstream.

CSF has three important life-sustaining functions: 1) to keep the brain tissue buoyant, acting as a cushion or "shock absorber"; 2) to act as the vehicle for delivering nutrients to the brain and removing waste; and 3) to flow between the cranium and spine and compensate for changes in intracranial blood volume (the amount of blood within the brain).

The balance between production and absorption of CSF is critically important. Because CSF is made continuously, medical conditions that block its normal flow or absorption will result in an over-accumulation of CSF. The resulting pressure of the fluid against brain tissue is what causes hydrocephalus.

Return to Hydrocephalus

See what others are saying

Comment from: John DeHeer, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: January 10

I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus and a Medtronic Strata valve was implanted. The doctor seems to change the rate of flow quite often. Recently I had a significant chronic subdural hematoma along with a chronic bleed. The emergency room doctor explained the diagnosis and called for me to be heli-evacuated immediately. At the hospital they drilled a bore hole and drained the blood that would lead to severe and violent seizures that would lead to delusions and hallucinations. I now cannot drive for 6 months and will have speech, physical, and occupational therapy and am left with cognitive thinking issues. It has been terrible. My doctor when I went to him 2 days prior to emergency room where hematoma was spotted, adjusted my shunt and only did plain films after I returned to him due to original hydrocephalus symptoms returning. We asked for CAT scan where the chronic bleed would have been spotted but he did not feel that necessary and just did x-rays and adjusted the rate of flow on the Medtronic strata valve.

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Comment from: BobK, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: December 07

I was born in 1969 and diagnosed with hydrocephalus shortly thereafter. I have had 2 replacements (1989 and 1999). In 2008 I started experiencing seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. All tests performed showed shunt was working properly. I have had no other surgeries for hydrocephalus since 1999.

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Comment from: Fred, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: November 24

I received a severe trauma to my brain 7 years ago. I had a severe head ache that a high tech therapist who uses electro crystal therapy along with another high tech bio feedback device called SCENAR and a cranial sacral therapy on me were able to relieve. My head ache didn't bother me for years, then I began getting a head ache that was progressively getting worse. It felt like my skull was being blown up like a balloon. I would put light pressure on my head with my hands and feel the plates in my skull move. So I was certain my head was being blown up like a balloon and at the time I thought this was being caused by all the scar tissue caused from my brain healing so many damaged wiring in my brain. Then I went through the situation of experiencing a problem with one of my teeth that was very painful. I'm not 100 percent sure what was the true cause of the sudden release of the pressure in my head. It could be something else but to the best of my thinking I believe it was the pain from my tooth that relieved the pressure in my head. I was in pain from my tooth and at the same time I felt euphoric because I experienced the sudden release of the pressure in my head that was causing me to experience a very difficult type of headache to tolerate. It took 7 years for me to realize hydrocephalus was the cause of my headache.

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