This is a buildup of fluid in the cavities (called ventricles) deep within the brain. The excess fluid is increasing the size of the ventricles and it puts pressure on the brain. Normally, the cerebrospinal fluid is flowing through the ventricles and bathes the brain and spinal column. The pressure of too much cerebrospinal fluid which is associated with hydrocephalus can damage the brain tissues and this can cause a range of impairments in the brain function.
This condition can happen at any age but most commonly happens among infants and adults 60 and over. The surgical treatment for hydrocephalus can restore and maintain the normal cerebrospinal fluid levels in the brain. Often, many different therapies are required to manage functional impairments or symptoms resulting from hydrocephalus.
The signs and symptoms of the hydrocephalus can vary by the age of affected person.
- Infants: Here are the most common signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus in infants:
- Changes in the head:
- A tense or bulging soft spot (fontanel) on the top of the head
- The size of the head is rapidly increasing
- An unusually large head
- Physical signs and symptoms:
- Poor growth
- Poor responsiveness to touch
- Deficits in muscle tone and strength
- Eyes fixed downward (sunsetting of the eyes)
- Poor feeding
- Toddlers and older children: Here are the most common signs and symptoms among toddlers and older children:
- Physical signs and symptoms:
- Urinary incontinence
- Poor appetite
- Poor coordination
- Unstable balance
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sleepiness or lethargy
- Abnormal enlargement of a toddler’s head
- Eyes fixed downward (sunsetting of eyes)
- Blurred or double vision
- Behavioral and cognitive changes:
- There can be delays or problems with previously acquired skills, such as walking or talking
- Decline in school performance
- Change in personality
- Young and middle – aged adults: Here are the most common signs and symptoms in this age group:
- Decline in concentration, memory and other thinking skills that may affect job performance
- Impaired vision
- A frequent urge to urinate or a loss of bladder control
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Older adults: Here are the most common signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus among adults 60 or older:
- Poor coordination or balance
- Difficulty walking which is often described as a shuffling gait or the feeling of the feet being stuck
- There can be a progressive loss of other thinking or reasoning skills
- Memory loss
- Frequent urge to urinate or loss of bladder control
This condition is caused by an imbalance between how much cerebrospinal fluid is produced and how much is absorbed into the bloodstream. The cerebrospinal fluid is produced by tissues that are lining the ventricles of the brain. It flows though the ventricles by way of interconnecting channels. This fluid can flow into spaces around the brain and spinal column. Primarily, it is absorbed by blood vessels in tissues near the base of the brain. The cerebrospinal fluid is playing an important role in the brain function by:
- Keeping your brain buoyant which is allowing the relatively heavy brain to float within the skull
- It is cushioning your brain to prevent injury
- Removing the waste products of your brain’s metabolism
- Flowing back and forth between your brain cavity and spinal column to maintain a constant pressure within the brain, compensating for changes in blood pressure in the brain
The excess cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles is happening for one of the following causes:
- Overproduction: There are rare cases when the cerebrospinal fluid is created more quickly than it can be absorbed.
- Poor absorption: The problem with the mechanisms that enable the blood vessels to absorb cerebrospinal fluid is less common. Often, this is related to inflammation of the brain tissues from injury or disease.
- Obstruction: The partial obstruction of the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (either from one ventricle to another or from the ventricles to other spaces around the brain) is the most common problem.