Hydrocephalus is a condition that primarily impacts infants and adults over the age of 60. The term “hydrocephalus” is derived from two Greek words: “hydro” meaning water and “cephalus” meaning head. The condition is often referred to as “water on the brain”, but hydrocephalus is actually caused by a buildup of excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
The CSF is an important part of brain functions with several purposes. It acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord, it delivers nutrients to the brain and carries waste away from the brain, and even regulates changes in pressure within the brain. When too much CSF builds up, it can cause numerous issues.
Symptoms of Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus presents itself in two major ways in adult patients. Hydrocephalus ex-vacuo occurs when a stroke or injury damages the brain and shrinks the brain matter and the CSF volume increases to fill the extra space. This may also occur in Alzheimer’s patients. Normal pressure hydrocephalus occurs from a gradual blockage of pathways that drain CSF, causing an excessive buildup of fluids.
When either of these occur, symptoms may include:
- Difficulty focusing or walking
- Weakness in the legs or instability
- Irritability or drowsiness
- Bladder control problems
- Behavioral changes
Hydrocephalus may present itself in many different ways depending on the origin of the blockage or shrinkage.
How Hydrocephalus is Treated
Hydrocephalus is most commonly treated in two ways: either by directly removing the source of the CSF obstruction or indirectly by diverting the fluid to another part of the body. Often, indirect treatments use a device called a shunt to move excess CSF to the peritoneal cavity, or the area surrounding the abdominal organs.
More direct methods aim to correct the source of CSF obstruction, such as the surgical removal of a brain tumor. Sometimes, two procedures are needed to first divert the CSF fluid and then remove anything blocking the CSF drainage pathways.
Hydrocephalus is most common among older adults and is typically the result of other pre-existing conditions. The symptoms for hydrocephalus may vary widely, so it’s important to speak with a qualified neurosurgeon if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms.
To consult with an expert, speak with the board-certified neurosurgeons at Hudson Valley Brain & Spine Surgery to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.