Water on the brain
Definition of Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus is a buildup of fluid inside the skull, leading to brain swelling. Hydrocephalus means “water on the brain.”
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Hydrocephalus is due to a problem with the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The fluid brings nutrients to the brain, takes away waste from the brain, and acts as a cushion.
The symptoms depend on the cause of the blockage, the person’s age, and how much brain tissue has been damaged by the swelling.
Signs and tests
When a health care provider taps fingertips on the skull, there may be abnormal sounds that indicated thinning and separation of skull bones. Scalp veins may appear stretched or enlarged.
The goal of treatment is to reduce or prevent brain damage by improving the flow of CSF.
Untreated hydrocephalus has a 50 – 60% death rate, with the survivors having varying degrees of intellectual, physical, and neurological disabilities.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 11/12/2010