Understanding the Different Types of Hydrocephalus


Hydrocephalus, commonly known as “water on the brain”, is an increasingly common medical condition that affects many. Understanding all the different types of hydrocephalus, related causes, and treatments can help you to take control of your health or a loved one's health.

What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is a condition characterised by an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain, resulting in enlargement of the ventricles and associated neurological symptoms. It is typically caused by either an overproduction or blockage in the flow of CSF. If left untreated, it can cause permanent neurological damage due to increased intracranial pressure and vertebrae compression.

How is Hydrocephalus Classified?

Hydrocephalus can be classified into two distinct types: non-communicating hydrocephalus and communicating hydrocephalus. Non-communicating hydrocephalus is caused by a blockage of CSF in the ventricles, which is usually due to an obstruction. Communicating hydrocephalus is generally caused by an overproduction of CSF, resulting in increased volume within the ventricles. Treatment for both types of hydrocephalus often involves placing a shunt, or a self-regulating valve, to divert excess CSF from the brain and expel it elsewhere.

What Are the Symptoms of Hydrocephalus?

The most common signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus include headaches, vomiting, enlargement of the head and fontanelle in infants, vision problems, irritability and fatigue. Other signs can include difficulty walking, dizziness, balance problems, seizures, behavior changes and cognitive decline. Hydrocephalus can lead to a range of other medical issues if left untreated. Therefore it is important to seek medical attention immediately if you or your child are exhibiting any of the above symptoms.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Hydrocephalus

Diagnosis of hydrocephalus usually begins when a doctor performs a neurological exam, reviews symptoms and medical history, and reviews imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan. Treatment can differ depending on the type, severity and underlying cause of hydrocephalus, but generally includes medication to reduce swelling or surgery to place a shunt in the brain to ease pressure. Other treatments can include physical therapy or occupational therapy for impaired mobility.

The Impact of Hydrocephalus On a Person's Life

Hydrocephalus can have a devastating effect on the life of an individual, depending on the type and severity of the condition. People with hydrocephalus may suffer physical symptoms including impaired mobility, loss of coordination, seizures and headaches as well as mental health complications such as memory problems, learning disabilities and depression. Some people also feel social isolation due to their perceived inability to work or keep up with peers. While some of these symptoms can be managed through treatment, they may continue to affect the person’s quality of life even after the condition is under control.

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