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Hydrocephalus: When Fluid Accumulates On the Brain

Hydrocephalus: When Fluid Accumulates On the Brain
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Hydrocephalus

fluid on the brain


Hydrocephalus refers to an accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid on the brain. In a normal patient, cerebrospinal fluid flows through the spinal canal and around the brain, within the dural sac. In a patient with hydrocephalus, the flow of cerebrospinal fluid is blocked or the fluid is being produced excessively, which results in the fluid not flowing freely and eventually building up within the dural sac. This puts pressure on brain tissue and, left untreated, can result in serious consequences including coma or death.

What Causes Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus can be present at birth or can develop as the result of any of the following conditions:

  • Chiari Malformation
  • Overproduction of cerebrospinal
  • Meningitis
  • Spina bifida
  • Neural tube defects
  • Arachnoid cysts
  • Dandy-Walker Syndrome
  • CNS infections
  • Intracranial hemorrhage
  • Brain tumors
  • Head trauma
  • Aqueduct stenosis

Types of Hydrocephalus

Congenital

Congenital hydrocephalus is when hydrocephalus is present at birth, with the accumulation of CSF having developed in the womb.

Acquired

Acquired hydrocephalus is when hydrocephalus develops after birth or later in life as the result of an underlying condition.

misshapen head infant

Hydrocephalus Symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Visual disturbances
  • Loss of coordination
  • Urinary/bowel incontinence
  • Seizures
  • Mental impairment
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of appetite

Diagnosing Hydrocephalus

If your doctor suspects you or your child has hydrocephalus, they will likely refer you to a neurologist. In cases with progressive or severe symptoms, they will suggest you go immediately to the hospital to be assessed for hydrocephalus. In congenital hydrocephalus, the infant will usually have a misshapen head, making the condition very apparent. In acquired hydrocephalus, diagnosis relies on diagnostic imaging such as CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. These diagnostic tools can give a visual of the fluid in the brain’s ventricles and show whether or not it has built up. This imaging can also reveal certain underlying causes of hydrocephalus, such as Chiari Malformation or brain tumors.

Treating Hydrocephalus

Treating hydrocephalus almost always requires brain surgery. Your neurosurgeon will determine the best surgical procedure to treat your hydrocephalus depending on the underlying cause. For instance, if your hydrocephalus is the result of something like Chiari Malformation, a Chiari decompression may resolve the fluid accumulation. Minor cases of hydrocephalus may be treated with an external ventricular drain, a tube that is fed into the brain’s ventricles and drains the excess fluid out of the body through the skull. Once the excess fluid has been drained, the drain is removed. Certain cases, such as those seen in congenital hydrocephalus, often require a shunt. A shunt is a long tube that is implanted in the body, starting in one of the brain’s ventricles and leading downwards into another cavity of the body, often the stomach. The shunt essentially drains the excess fluid into the stomach where it can be absorbed and removed with the body’s waste.

shunt surgery

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