What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is a condition caused by the build-up of fluid in your brain, increasing the pressure in your skull.

There are two main types of hydrocephalus:

  • Non-communicating, or “obstructive,” where the fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) can’t reach the subarachnoid space
  • Communicating, or “non-obstructive,” where the fluid can reach the subarachnoid space

What Causes Hydrocephalus?

Some hydrocephalus is genetic, but non-congenital causes may include certain infections, brain tumors or trauma, meningitis and hemorrhage in your brain.

In newborns, hydrocephalus may be caused by:

  • Abnormal development in the womb that causes blockage in the flow of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Infection in the womb that causes inflammation

Other possible factors for hydrocephalus include brain and spinal cord tumors, infections in the central nervous system and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus

Symptoms of hydrocephalus vary depending on the severity of the condition.

Hydrocephalus can occur at any age, but it’s more common in newborns. For infants, symptoms of hydrocephalus include:

  • Seizures
  • Sleeping excessively
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability 
  • Pain in your neck

In children, the symptoms of hydrocephalus may also include:

  • Seizures
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Spasms in muscles or eyes
  • Mood problems, such as irritability
  • Changes in personality, thinking or memory
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Trouble controlling bladder
  • Slow growth
  • Sleeping excessively

When present in early childhood, while the skull is still malleable, hydrocephalus can cause swelling in the skull.

Treatment of Hydrocephalus

Treatment for hydrocephalus is usually surgical, focused on restoring the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, often with shunts.

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