Hydrocephalus

Alternative Names

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.

Symptoms

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.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce or prevent brain damage by improving the flow of CSF.

Expectations (prognosis)

Untreated hydrocephalus has a 50 – 60% death rate, with the survivors having varying degrees of intellectual, physical, and neurological disabilities.

Review

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

Skull of a newborn

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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