Hydrocephalus is the buildup of fluid in the cavities (ventricles) deep within the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the ventricles and puts pressure on the brain.
Cerebrospinal fluid normally flows through the ventricles and bathes the brain and spinal column. But the pressure of too much cerebrospinal fluid associated with hydrocephalus can damage brain tissues and cause a large spectrum of impairments in brain function.
Although hydrocephalus can occur at any age, it's more common among infants and older adults.
Surgical treatment for hydrocephalus can restore and maintain normal cerebrospinal fluid levels in the brain. A variety of interventions are often required to manage symptoms or functional impairments resulting from hydrocephalus.
The signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus vary generally by age of onset:
Toddlers and older children
Young and middle-aged adults
Seek emergency medical care for infants and toddlers experiencing these signs and symptoms:
Seek prompt medical attention for other signs or symptoms in any age group.
Because more than one condition can result in the problems associated with hydrocephalus, it's important to get a timely diagnosis and appropriate care.
Hydrocephalus is caused by an imbalance between how much cerebrospinal fluid is produced and how much is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Cerebrospinal fluid plays an important role in brain function by:
Your brain floats in a bath of cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid also fills large open structures, called ventricles, which lie deep inside your brain. The fluid-filled ventricles help keep the ...
In many cases, the exact event leading to hydrocephalus is unknown. However, a number of developmental or medical problems can contribute to or trigger hydrocephalus.
Other contributing factors
Long-term complications of hydrocephalus can vary widely and are often difficult to predict.
If hydrocephalus has progressed by the time of birth, it may result in significant intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities. Less severe cases, when treated appropriately, may have few, if any, notable complications.
Adults who have experienced a significant decline in memory or other thinking skills generally have poorer recoveries and persistent symptoms after treatment of hydrocephalus.
The severity of complications depends on:
Preparing for your appointment
How you learn about your child's condition — if your child has hydrocephalus — may depend on how severe the symptoms are, when problems first appear, and whether there were any significant risk factors during the pregnancy or delivery. In some cases, hydrocephalus may be diagnosed at birth or prior to birth.
Questions you should be prepared to answer during regular checkups might include the following:
Preparing for other doctor visits
Be prepared to answer the following questions about your symptoms or on your child's behalf:
Tests and diagnosis
A diagnosis of hydrocephalus is usually based on:
Treatments and drugs
One of two surgical treatments may be used to treat hydrocephalus.
People who have hydrocephalus usually need a shunt system for the rest of their lives, and regular monitoring is required.
Complications of surgery
Any failure requires prompt attention, surgical revisions or other interventions. Signs and symptoms of problems may include:
A care team for children may include a:
Adults with more severe complications may also require the services of occupational therapists, social workers, specialists in dementia care or other medical specialists.
A shunt drains excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to another part of the body, such as the abdomen, where it can be more easily absorbed. ...
Coping and support
With the help of rehabilitative therapies and educational interventions, many people with hydrocephalus live with few limitations.
There are many resources available to provide emotional and medical support as you parent a child with hydrocephalus. Children with developmental problems due to hydrocephalus may be eligible for government-sponsored health care and other support services. Check with your state or county social services agency.
Hospitals and voluntary organizations serving people with disabilities are good resources for emotional and practical support, as are doctors and nurses. Ask these resources to help you connect with other families who are coping with hydrocephalus.
Adults living with hydrocephalus may find valuable information and support from organizations dedicated to hydrocephalus education and support, such as the Hydrocephalus Association.
Hydrocephalus is not a preventable condition. However, there are ways to reduce the risk of hydrocephalus:
To prevent head injury:
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Last Updated: 2011-09-13
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