Hydrocephalus: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

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What is hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain,” is a condition that affects the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. CSF is a clear and colorless liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord to cushion and support. Too much CSF in some regions of the brain can cause pressure to build up, leading to hydrocephalus.

There are two main types of hydrocephalus: congenital and acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth due to an abnormality or defect in the development of the central nervous system. Acquired hydrocephalus can develop at any age due to injury or illness that causes blockage or disruption of CSF flow.

Hydrocephalus can be further classified based on its underlying cause, severity, and presentation. Some people may have no symptoms, while others experience severe headaches, nausea/vomiting, seizures, vision problems, or cognitive decline.

The diagnosis of hydrocephalus typically involves imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans and clinical evaluation by a neurologist specialist who will determine which treatment approach would be best for each case.

How is hydrocephalus caused?

Hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs when there’s an excessive buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. This can happen for several reasons, including an obstruction within the ventricles or a disruption in CSF absorption.

Genetic abnormalities or developmental issues may cause congenital hydrocephalus during fetal growth. In some cases, it may also result from infections such as rubella and toxoplasmosis during pregnancy.

Acquired hydrocephalus may occur after head injuries, strokes, tumors, or infections such as meningitis and encephalitis. It can also develop following surgery for brain tumors or other conditions when there are complications with CSF drainage.

In rare instances, normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) develops without any known cause. However, certain factors like age and underlying medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease increase the risk for NPH.

It is essential to accurately identify the cause of hydrocephalus so that appropriate treatment can be initiated on time to prevent further complications.

How is hydrocephalus diagnosed?

Hydrocephalus can be diagnosed through a variety of methods. The first step is a physical exam and medical history review to assess symptoms and potential causes. Imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans may also diagnose hydrocephalus by examining the brain for signs of excess cerebrospinal fluid.

Doctors may perform lumbar punctures or spinal taps to measure pressure in the skull and analyze cerebrospinal fluid for abnormalities. Neurological exams, which test reflexes, muscle strength, coordination, vision, and hearing, can also be conducted.

It’s important to note that hydrocephalus diagnosis can sometimes be challenging because its symptoms often mimic other neurological conditions. Nevertheless, early detection is crucial for prompt treatment and preventing further damage.

If you suspect you or someone you know may have hydrocephalus based on the symptoms mentioned above — including headaches, nausea/vomiting/blurry vision/dizziness when waking up in the morning – consult your doctor immediately for proper examination and diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus can cause various symptoms, which can vary depending on the affected person’s age. For infants, common symptoms include a huge head size, vomiting, and sleepiness.

Adults with hydrocephalus may experience worse headaches in the morning or when lying down. They may also have difficulty standing or walking due to balance problems. Some people with hydrocephalus may experience vision changes or problems with coordination.

Hydrocephalus can also impact cognitive function. People with this condition may have memory problems and difficulty concentrating.

It’s important to note that not everyone will experience all of these symptoms, and some people may only have mild symptoms. If you’re experiencing any unusual signs or symptoms related to your brain function, you must talk to your doctor immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment options.

How is hydrocephalus treated?

Hydrocephalus can be treated in various ways based on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Treatment aims to alleviate symptoms, reduce pressure on the brain, and prevent further damage.

  • Surgery. This involves placing a shunt system of a catheter and valve into the brain that helps drain excess fluid to another body part where it can be absorbed or eliminated. In some cases, an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) may be performed instead of shunt placement to create an alternative pathway for cerebrospinal fluid flow.
  • Medications may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms associated with hydrocephalus, such as headaches or seizures. In addition, physical therapy or occupational therapy may be recommended to improve muscle strength and coordination.

Individuals with hydrocephalus need to receive ongoing care from their healthcare provider to monitor any changes in symptoms and ensure proper management of the condition. With appropriate treatment, many people with hydrocephalus can lead active lives.

Can hydrocephalus be prevented?

Preventing hydrocephalus is not always possible, as various factors beyond our control can cause the condition. However, there are some steps that pregnant women can take to reduce their risk of giving birth to a child with hydrocephalus.

  1. Managing maternal infections during pregnancy. Certain infections, such as rubella or toxoplasmosis, may increase the risk of having a baby with hydrocephalus.
  2. Taking folic acid supplements before and during pregnancy. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which include conditions like spina bifida and anencephaly, both of which can cause hydrocephalus.
  3. It’s also essential for parents to seek regular prenatal care from qualified healthcare providers. This allows them to monitor any potential issues early on in the pregnancy and address them promptly.

While some cases of hydrocephalus cannot be prevented entirely, these preventative measures can help significantly lower your chances.


Hydrocephalus is a severe condition that affects both adults and children. It occurs when there is an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, leading to pressure on the brain tissues. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and if left untreated, it can lead to severe complications such as permanent brain damage.

Fortunately, with advancements in medical technology and treatments available today, hydrocephalus can be managed effectively. Early diagnosis is crucial for successful treatment outcomes.

If you or someone you know experiences any of the symptoms associated with hydrocephalus, seek immediate medical attention. A neurologist or a neurosurgeon will perform the necessary tests to help diagnose this condition.

Although hydrocephalus can be challenging to manage due to its severity and complexity of symptoms, it is not a hopeless situation. The key takeaway here is early detection, and timely intervention are essential for better outcomes!



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