Hydrocephalus is the technical term for the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) on the brain. Many people refer to this condition as water on the brain. As the fluid begins to accumulate, the ventricles in the brain begin to expand, which in turn, can cause pressure and significant neurological complications. Normally, CSF is constantly generated by the brain, distributed across the surface of the brain and then absorbed. However, when this absorption is blocked, hydrocephalus occurs.

Causes of Hydrocephalus

The exact causes of hydrocephalus are poorly understood, however we do know that both genetic and environmental factors can contribute to the problem. Some patients have a genetic abnormality or developmental problem that cause hydrocephalus, while others may develop this disorder from certain diseases and injuries including traumatic brain injury, meningitis benign or malignant brain tumors and more. No matter the exact cause, it is important to treat the condition swiftly to avoid significant and permanent brain damage.

Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus can manifest itself differently in young children and adults because of the composition of their skulls. Infants may present with abnormally large head circumferences due to the pressure caused by the CSF buildup. Because the skull plates are not fixed, the head can expand to accommodate the additional fluid. Older children and adults may have minor or severe symptoms depending on the degree to which the condition affects the brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision problems
  • Balance issues
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Extreme drowsiness, irritability or lethargy
  • Urinary issues
  • and much more.

Because hydrocephalus can affect different people in drastically different ways, patients may experience a variety of symptoms unique to their particular condition.

Hydrocephalus Treatment

Of course, the treatment for an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid is drainage. This is achieved through surgical means. A flexible tube is inserted into the offending ventricle in the brain with the other end of the tube allowing for drainage into the torso, usually the abdomen. This is the most common treatment and allows for the effective drainage of cerebral spinal fluid without the need for continued intervention.

Certain cases can be treated with a surgical procedure known as the third ventriculostomy. During this procedure, a small hole is created at the bottom of the third ventricle allowing the cerebrospinal fluid to bypass the blockage and absorb properly.

As with any neurosurgical procedure, there are risks associated with treatment including general risks associated with all surgical procedures and specific risks associated with the procedure being performed. Patients will be fully apprised of the potential risks of the procedure as it relates to their particular condition during their consultation with one of our neurosurgeons.

Those suffering from hydrocephalus may or may not experience significant relief of neurological conditions after the procedure. This largely depends on the cause, severity and duration of the hydrocephalus. It also depends on the ability of the neurosurgeon to pinpoint and treat the exact cause of the cerebral spinal fluid flow blockage. However, advances in neurosurgery and rehabilitative therapy have made the prognosis much brighter than it has ever been.

Our Team

Dr. John Grant

Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery