What Is the Survival Rate of Hydrocephalus?

Medically Reviewed on 10/27/2020

Survival in untreated hydrocephalus is poor.
Survival in untreated hydrocephalus is poor.

The survival rate of patients with hydrocephalus depends on

  • Their symptoms.
  • Timeliness of diagnosis.
  • Their reaction to the treatment.

Survival in untreated hydrocephalus is poor. Approximately, 50% of the affected patients die before three years of age and approximately 80% die before reaching adulthood. Treatment markedly improves the outcome for hydrocephalus not associated with tumors, with 89% and 95% survival in two case studies.

Early diagnosis and treatment of hydrocephalus can improve the survival rate of patients. Most hydrocephalus patients lead long, problem-free lives. However, if left untreated, hydrocephalus may prove to be fatal. The longer the symptoms persist, the more difficult it becomes to treat. The benefits of surgery, rehabilitative therapies, and educational interventions can help many patients to live a normal life.

If hydrocephalus treatment involves the implementation of a shunt system, the survival rate depends on the body’s acceptance of the shunt system. The main complications of shunt systems include:

  • Blockage due to tissue, blood or protein, cells, and debris may block any part of the shunt system
  • Disconnection as shunt drift within the body
  • Infection due to the invasion of bacteria during the surgery
  • Hemorrhage
  • Seizures
  • Fits
  • Epilepsy

What is hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which there is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the cavities deep within the brain. The extra fluids cause the cavities to swell, exerting pressure on the adjacent brain tissues. CSF is a colorless fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The functions of CSF include:

  • It protects and cushions the brain and spine
  • It acts as a shock absorber
  • It transports the essential nutrients to the brain and spinal cord
  • It regulates changes in pressure within the brain

The body, on average, produces one pint of CSF and absorbs it completely; however, a hindrance to the normal flow of CSF and its absorption can result in a buildup of CSF. The extra pressure generated can keep the brain from proper functioning, leading to brain damage and even death.

There are two major types of hydrocephalus:

  • Communicating hydrocephalus: In this type, the flow of CSF is blocked after it exits the cavities or ventricles.
  • Non-communicating hydrocephalus: In this type, the flow of CSF is blocked along one or more passages connecting the ventricles.

Two additional types of hydrocephalus include:

Hydrocephalus ex-vacuo: It results from brain damage caused by a stroke or an injury.

Normal-pressure hydrocephalus (NPH): It can occur due to

  • Bleeding in the brain’s CSF.
  • Head trauma.
  • Infection.
  • Tumor.
  • Complications of surgery.


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What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

The symptoms of hydrocephalus differ from person to person and mainly depend on age. Hydrocephalus commonly affects infants and people aged above 60 years. Symptoms in infants include:

  • An immediate increase in the head size
  • An abnormally large head
  • A lump on the fontanel (soft spot) on top of the head
  • Vomiting
  • Problems sucking or feeding
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Eyes that are fixed downward

Symptoms in older children, young adults, and middle-aged adults include:

  • Headache
  • Hazy or double vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Problems with balance
  • Problems with vision
  • Poor coordination
  • Sleepiness
  • Difficulty remaining awake or waking up
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes

Symptoms in older adults include:

  • Gait difficulty
  • Mental impairment and dementia
  • Slow movements
  • Poor coordination/balance
  • Loss of bladder control

How is hydrocephalus treated?

The treatment of hydrocephalus includes one of these surgical options:

  • Placement of shunt or a tube into the brain to drain the excess fluid into either the chest cavity or abdomen where it gets absorbed
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) is a procedure, where the physician makes a hole in the lower third of the ventricles to divert the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and relieve pressure

Similarly, a choroid plexus cauterization uses an electric current to burn the CSF-producing tissue to produce less CSF.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/27/2020