People afflicted with hydrocephalus are easy to recognize because of the large head circumference or size.

People of all ages can develop the condition. It is also categorized in many ways depending on the presentation or cause. It’s vital to understand the possible risks and causes of hydrocephalus as well as find the right treatment approaches that will quickly relieve the pressure and prevent further complications. Diagnosing the condition well apart from other possible brain disorders will be helpful. Here is some more information.

Hydrocephalus Overview

Hydrocephalus comes from Greek terms which mean “water” and “head”. The condition was named as such because of the major presenting symptom in which the brain collects fluid or water. The fluid accumulating in the cranium is actually CSF or cerebrospinal fluid which is naturally present in the spinal cord and brain. Large amounts of CSF in the brain will cause the spaces to widen in an unusual manner.

As the ventricles continue to widen, extra pressure is placed on the brain tissues, which will also lead to different signs and symptoms. There are generally four ventricles that are linked by narrow passages. The CSF naturally moves through the ventricles and then goes out into closed reservoirs or cisterns found at the bottom part of the brain. These circulate the fluid to keep the brain clean and in healthy condition before the fluid is brought back into the blood circulation.

The cerebrospinal fluid or CSF has a number of important functions in the body. Primarily, the brain tissue stays buoyant and protected against impact because of the support or cushioning effect provided by the CSF. Nutrients are also distributed to the brain properly and waste products are eliminated. The CSF will also help balance the amount of blood present in the brain. Proper production and use of the fluid is critical to avoid increasing pressure or hydrocephalus and other related diseases in the brain.

Hydrocephalus Types

Hydrocephalus can either be acquired or congenital. The acquired type of hydrocephalus usually presents when the child is delivered or shortly after delivery. This kind can also manifest in older individuals after acquiring an injury or becoming afflicted with a disease. The congenital or genetic type is obvious during birth although the problem usually develops during fetal development.

Genetic problems and other factors that caused trauma to the mother or infant can lead to the development. Hydrocephalus is also categorized as either communicating or non-communicating. The communicating type is noted when CSF, after going out of the ventricles, is obstructed. The non-communicating type is present when the fluid is blocked in one or more ventricles or the passages that link these.

Finally, the condition can also be described as either ex-vacuo or normal pressure. The ex-vacuo kind is present after the person acquires an injury or stroke. Because of inadequate fluid and nutrients delivered to the brain, the tissues will normally shrink and certain functions might be impeded. The normal pressure kind can be present among different individuals, although it is more commonly seen among older individuals. The problem can result from tumor, surgical problems, head trauma or hemorrhage within the brain.

Signs and Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

The signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus will differ among individuals based on a number of factors such as the progression of the disease, the age of the patient and response to treatment and the condition itself. The most common sign is the increase in head size or circumference. This is particularly notable among babies. Other related symptoms include irritability, vomiting, sleepiness, sunsetting or downward movement of the eyes and seizures.

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Children can also experience a number of symptoms due to accumulating pressure in their cranium. Some of the associated symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, double vision, blurred vision, swelling of the optic disk in the eye, urinary incontinence, poor balance, poor coordination, problems in stance or gait, lethargy, body weakness, irritability, restlessness, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, drowsiness and slow developmental progress or difficulty learning.

More Signs and Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

Other individuals will also present other symptoms of hydrocephalus such as problems in bladder control, difficulty running or walking, mental impairment, dementia, slowed movement, problems in fine or motor skills, feeling of the feet being immobile and pain in the head. Some of the presenting symptoms might be similar to other brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. Doctors will conduct a number of tests and diagnostic examinations to rule out the presence of the other conditions. Some of the usual tests include CT scan, MRI scan, intracranial tests and spinal tap.

Treating Hydrocephalus

Most cases of hydrocephalus will be treated via surgery. The surgeon will introduce a shunt system to properly manage the flow of cerebrospinal fluid or CSF from one part of the body or brain to another, thereby improving the way blood, fluid and nutrients are distributed and circulate. The shunt system is made of a tough plastic tube or shunt, the valve and the catheter. One tip of the catheter is positioned in the fluid just outside the spinal cord or inside a ventricle within the brain. The opposite end is positioned inside the abdominal cavity or other preferred sites.

Another treatment for hydrocephalus is third ventriculostomy. A scope is positioned properly and then a small hole is made on the base of the third ventricle. This lets the fluid bypass the blockage and normally flow to the proper resorption site to prevent the buildup of fluid and pressure within the brain.

Prognosis of Hydrocephalus

Generally, if hydrocephalus is left untreated, patients can die from the condition since the brain no longer receives proper nourishment from regular circulation. Some individuals who have a shunt system installed can actually recover fully. However, the brain damage that has already been acquired is usually permanent. The underlying condition that led to the development of the condition will also determine whether or not the patient can still recover fully. Some patients can recover and find the right solution for the blockage although they have to work with their doctors and families to resume normal activities.