What is Hydrocephalus?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Hydrocephalus refers to a build-up of fluid within the brain. This accumulated fluid places pressure on the brain, which can cause brain damage.

This brain damage can lead to various different symptoms, some of which include:

Causes of hydrocephalus

The brain is surrounded by a fluid called the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This CSF performs several important functions, which include protecting the brain from damage, providing it with the nutrients required for proper function and removing waste products from the brain. New CSF is continuously produced by the brain and the old is released for absorption by blood vessels. However, disruption to this cycle can cause CSF to accumulate in the brain, putting the organ under pressure.

Types of hydrocephalus

There are three main types of hydrocephalus. The first type is present at birth and is called congenital hydrocephalus. It can be caused by birth defects such as spina bifida or as a consequence of an infection the mother developed during pregnancy.

The second type develops after birth and is referred to as acquired hydrocephalus. This may develop as the result of an injury or as a complication of a medical condition, for example.

The third type only develops in individuals aged over 50 years and is referred to as normal pressure hydrocephalus or NPH. It sometimes develops after a stroke or a head injury, but generally the cause of this condition is not well understood.

Diagnosis and treatment

The type of hydrocephalus can be determined using brain scans. The condition can often be treated using a device called a shunt, which is a thin tube that is surgically implanted in the brain to provide a channel by which excess CSF can be drained away from the brain. The fluid moves way from the brain to another body part, usually the abdomen, where it is then absorbed into the bloodstream.

Reviewed by , BSc

Last Updated: Sep 10, 2014

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