Also known as: water on the brain, fluid in the brain

What is Hydrocephalus?

The brain and spinal cord are normally surrounded by a fluid produced by vessels (the choroid plexus) in the brain called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF normally flows through the cavities of the brain (ventricles) and circulates around the brain and spinal cord, production being balanced by reabsorption into the bloodstream.

Hydrocephalus ("hydro" means water, "cephalus" means the brain) is primarily an excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. This excess of cerebrospinal fluid accumulation causes the fluid spaces (the ventricles) of the brain to enlarge causing pressure on the surrounding brain.

What causes hydrocephalus?

Experts aren’t exactly sure why some baby’s develop hydrocephalus, but common causes include congenital abnormalities of the CSF pathway (for unknown reasons, genetic abnormalities or development disorders), following a bleed into the brain intraventricular hemorrhage), infections, malformations of the brain or brain tumors. It also appear as a complication of other diseases.

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus causes different symptoms in infants than in older children and adults.

Infants with hydrocephalus typically have:

  • a large head
  • downward deviation of the eyes (“sun setting” sign)
  • irritability
  • sleepiness
  • vomiting
  • seizures
Older children and adults might experience headache, lethargy, drowsiness, vision problems (blurred or double vision), poor coordination, gait disturbance, nausea and vomiting, trouble with balance and personality changes, among other symptoms.

What are hydrocephalus care options?

Treatment for hydrocephalus depends on the underlying cause but usually involves creating a pathway for the excess fluid to flow out of the head to another area of the body. This is usually done with a "shunt system," though a treatment called endoscopic third ventriculostomy may also be used in some instances. Sometimes cauterization of the choroid plexus is required.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: September 08, 2020 03:54 PM

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