Hydrocephalus comes from two Greek words: ‘hydro’ meaning water and ‘cephalus’ meaning head. Hydrocephalus was also commonly called ‘water on the brain’.
There are two types of Hydrocephalus, congenital (present at birth) and acquired (by injury, trauma to the brain).
Our brains are surrounded by a fluid known as CSF, (cerebral spinal fluid), which is constantly made and circulated. CSF is produced in the ventricles, circulates through the ventricular system through the brain and is absorbed into the blood stream. It has many functions. It acts as a protective cushion for the brain and spinal cord. CSF contains nutrients and proteins the brain needs for nourishment and normal function and also carries waste away from the surrounding tissue.
When there is a problem with absorbing the CSF into the bloodstream, it starts to build up in the brain causing swelling. This swelling can lead to a multiple of symptoms including: enlarged head (for babies), vision problems, lethargy, irritability, vomiting, headaches, balance problems and memory issues. These symptoms are varied and varied in degree with each individual.
Other problems that can be associated with hydrocephalus and they vary from person to person. Some problems may be:
- Learning disabilities. Although individuals are able to learn, they may require special modifications and assistance.
- Memory deficits
- Psychological deficits
- Motor Skill disabilities
- Vision problems
- Hearing difficulties,
- Seizures, and
- Hormonal imbalances.
- Sensitivity to sound, pressure and bright lights may also be associated with the condition.
Because each case is individualized, generalizations in this category are difficult to make.
When not treated immediately, Hydrocephalus can permanently damage the brain and cause physical and mental developmental problems. If untreated, it can be fatal.
CT Scan and/or MRI are the tests done to check for or confirm Hydrocephalus. These machines take pictures of the brain and ventricles to show swelling, flow issues, blockages and any other details that will help them determine the reason or cause of the symptoms.
Hydrocephalus is not curable, but treatable. Typically, shunts are used to treat Hydrocephalus. A shunt is flexible tubing that is inserted into the ventricle(s) and then fed to another region of the body, usually the abdominal cavity where the fluid can be absorbed. It also can be fed to one of the heart chambers as well. At the ‘top’ of the shunt, in between the skin and the skull a valve is placed, which regulates the CSF flow. The valve has a pressure setting and once that pressure is reached, it kicks in and diverts the CSF to the other region and the CSF is then absorbed there.
There is another treatment for Hydrocephalus called, Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV), but not everyone is a candidate for this procedure. You can find more information on this procedure here: http://www.hydroassoc.org/education_support/faq#22
Shunts are still prone to issues. They can become infected and/or become blocked. If they become infected, they are removed, replaced and treated with antibiotics. If they become blocked, and there is no infection, the part that is blocked, can usually be replaced.
When an individual’s health has been good for a period of time, check up CT Scans are done yearly (depending on individual) as well, a shunt survey, which is an x-ray to make sure there is enough tubing in the abdominal cavity for growth. Depending on how quick the individual grows, the need for lengthening will vary.
Hydrocephalus is treatable. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns, they will refer you, if necessary, to a neurosurgeon for further assessment and treatment.
Below, is some helpful information on Hydrocephalus.
*Please note, this article is not intended for diagnosis, please consult your doctor if you have any comments, questions and/or concerns regarding yourself or an individual. This article is meant for information purposes only.
Some of the information above and more can also be found at the following links.
Hydrocephalus Foundation Inc. – http://www.hydrocephalus.org/
910 Rear Broadway, Rt. 1
Saugus, MA 01906
Hydrocephalus Association – http://www.hydroassoc.org/
870 Market Street, Suite 705
San Francisco, CA 94102
Telephone: (415) 732-7040 / (888) 598-3789
Fax: (415) 732-7044
Medline Plus – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hydrocephalus.html
Written by Renée MacLachlan: November/08
**Please note: that this is just to serve as an information resource, this is not to be used for diagnosis. If you have any medical concerns or questions, please see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.