Hydrocephalus is a condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the brain. This typically causes increased pressure inside the skull. Older people may have headaches, double vision, poor balance, urinary incontinence, personality changes, or mental impairment. In babies there may be a rapid increase in head size. Other symptoms may include vomiting, sleepiness, seizures, and downward pointing of the eyes.

Hydrocephalus can occur due to birth defects or be acquired later in life. Associated birth defects include neural tube defects and those that result in aqueductal stenosis. Other causes include meningitis, brain tumors, traumatic brain injury, intraventricular hemorrhage, and subarachnoid hemorrhage. There are four types of hydrocephalus: communicating, non-communicating, ex-vacuo, and normal pressure. Diagnosis is typically by examination and medical imaging.

Hydrocephalus is typically treated by the surgical placement of a shunt system. A procedure called a third ventriculostomy may be an option in a few people. Complications from shunts may include overdrainage, underdrainage, mechanical failure, infection, or obstruction. This may require replacement. Outcomes are variable; however, many lead normal lives. Without treatment death may occur.

About one to two per 1,000 newborns have hydrocephalus. Rates in the developing world may be more. Normal pressure hydrocephalus is estimated to affect about 5 per 100,000 people with rates increasing with age. Description of hydrocephalus by Hippocrates date back more than 2000 years. The word “hydrocephalus” is from from Greek hydro-, meaning “water”, and kephalos, meaning “head”.


Illustration showing effects of hydrocephalus on the brain and cranium. CDC Public Domain

Illustration showing effects of hydrocephalus on the brain and cranium. CDC- Public Domain

Hydrocephalus. (2016, September 28). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:05, September 28, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hydrocephalus&oldid=741658282