Hydrocephalus is a build-up of fluid on the brain. The excess fluid puts pressure on the brain, which can damage it.

If left untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal.

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Complications of surgery


Symptoms of hydrocephalus

The damage to the brain can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • headache
  • being sick
  • blurred vision
  • difficulty walking

Different types of hydrocephalus can cause specific symptoms.

It can be caused by a conditionsuch as spina bifida , or an infection the mother develops during pregnancy, such as mumps or rubella (German measles).

It's estimated spina bifida affects one baby in every 1,000 born in Britain. Most of them will have hydrocephalus.

Many babies born with hydrocephalus (congenital hydrocephalus) have permanent brain damage.

This can cause a number of long-term complications, such as:

  • learning disabilities
  • impaired speech
  • memory problems
  • short attention span
  • problems with organisational skills
  • vision problems, such as a squint and visual impairment
  • problems with physical co-ordination
  • epilepsy

If your child has learning disabilities, they'll need extra support from their nursery or school to ensure their needs are being met.

It usually develops after an illness or injury.

For example, it may occur after a serious head injury or as a complication of a medical condition, such as a brain tumour .

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH)

Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is an uncommon and poorly understood condition that most often affects people over the age of 60.

It can sometimes develop after an injury or a stroke , but in most cases the cause is unknown.

Mobility problems, dementia and urinary incontinence are the main symptoms of NPH, but because they come on gradually and are similar to the symptoms of other, more common conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease ,itcan be difficult to diagnose.

Diagnosing hydrocephalus

Brain scans, such as CT scans and MRI scans ,can be used to diagnosecongenital and acquired hydrocephalus.

A checklist is used to help diagnose NPH. For example, how you walk, your mental ability and symptoms that affect your bladder control will be assessed.

It's important to diagnose NPH correctly because, unlike Alzheimers disease, the symptoms can be relieved with treatment.

During this procedure, a hole is made in the floor of the brain to allow the trapped CSF to escape to the surface, where it can be absorbed.

For example, a shunt can become blocked or infected.

Before having surgery,your surgeon should discuss the possible complications with you.

However, the brain isn't surrounded by water but by a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

CSF has three important functions:

  • it protects the brain from damage
  • it removes waste products from the brain
  • it provides the brain with the nutrients it needs to function properly

The brain constantly produces new CSF about a pint a day while old fluid is released from the brain and absorbed into the blood vessels.

Butif this process is interrupted, the level of CSF can quickly build up, placing pressure on the brain.


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 10 Jan 2017