What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is a medical condition caused by excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. Once known as “water on the brain,” the fluid is actually cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that is produced in the brain and surrounds the brain’s tissues and spinal cord.

Typically, CSF flows through the four ventricles of the brain, bathing the brain and spinal cord, allowing the absorption of nutrients and the removal of waste. Health deteriorates when CSF remains stagnant.

There are two types of hydrocephalus. Acute hydrocephalus is connected with head trauma, some cancers, or infections. Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is more of a chronic condition that develops in people in their 60s and 70s, and while it can often be associated with dementia it is actually a treatable condition.

What are the Symptoms of Hydrocephalus?

An excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid creates potentially harmful pressure inside the skull. Symptoms in older children and adults may include headaches, vomiting, nausea, vision problems, balance and coordination disturbances, urinary incontinence, and personality or cognitive changes. The symptoms of normal hydrocephalus are gait disturbance including shuffling steps when walking and difficulty using stairs, confusion that can be interpreted as mild dementia, and urinary incontinence. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to meet with your doctor soon.

What are the Causes of Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus can be caused by an overproduction of cerebrospinal fluid, or more frequently by a reduction in the ability to drain the spinal fluid. This reduction in the ability to drain cerebrospinal fluid may be caused by a blockage in the drainage pathway such as a tumor or infection. Traumatic injury or diseases such as meningitis, cancer or hemorrhage can be root causes of hydrocephalus. Brain surgery and other nervous system infections also increase the risk of hydrocephalus. It can be present in babies at birth, though it should be noted that Dr. Ahuja does not accept pediatric patients at this time.

What are the Diagnosis and Treatment Options?

Either a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may can be used to diagnose hydrocephalus. After these scans, if a presumptive diagnosis is made, a follow up test called a cisternogram may be ordered. In some cases a
lumbar puncture may be performed. If you have been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, we will advise you through this process and give you the support you need as you decide on your next steps. Neurosurgeon Dr. Arvind Ahuja, M.D. can treat hydrocephalus by surgically placing a shunt system, which diverts the flow of fluid to another part of the body where it can be absorbed as part of the normal circulatory process.