Hydrocephalus is a condition in which too much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up in the brain. If left untreated, it can cause serious brain damage and physical disability. Fortunately, hydrocephalus is usually treatable if it’s detected early. The most common cause of hydrocephalus is an obstruction or narrowing of the pathways that drain the CSF away from the brain.
What is Hydrocephalus?
Hydrocephalus is a condition in which too much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up in the brain. CSF is a clear fluid that acts as cushion and support for the brain and spinal cord, providing protection and helping to regulate blood flow to the tissue. In hydrocephalus, excess pressure from this accumulation of CSF can damage brain tissue or cause other complications.
Symptoms of Hydrocephalus
The symptoms of hydrocephalus depend on a person’s age and can vary between individuals. In infants, common signs such as a rapid increase in head circumference, bulging fontanels (the soft spots on the top of the skull), vomiting or irritability may indicate hydrocephalus. Babies and young children with hydrocephalus may experience difficulty gaining weight, developmental delays and poor coordination. Common symptoms in adults include headaches, disturbed vision, difficulty walking and problems with memory.
Causes of Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus results from increased pressure in the cranium, due to either an obstruction blocking normal fluid drainage from the brain or from an overproduction of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Potential causes include problems with the production or resorption of CSF, birth defects, blockages in the ventricular system, head injury or infection. Acquired hydrocephalus can develop at any age and may be caused by tumors or other types of brain injury like a stroke or meningitis.
Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus
Diagnosis of hydrocephalus involves a thorough physical examination and imaging tests including X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. A neurological examination may be done to check for any other signs of damage from the increased pressure in the cranium. If needed, a lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) may be used to measure the CSF pressure and collect samples for testing. Treatment options vary depending on the cause of hydrocephalus and can include medications, neurosurgery, or other interventions.
Treatment for Hydrocephalus
Treatment for hydrocephalus will typically involve draining excess CSF from the brain, which is accomplished via a surgical procedure called a shunt. The shunt diverts the excess CSF away from the brain and relief of symptoms can often be obtained. For some types of hydrocephalus, however, other treatments may be necessary to reduce pressure or improve CSF flow. These treatments can include medications, neurosurgery, or other interventions.