Hydrocephalus is an excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear liquid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain and acts as a protective barrier or cushion. An excess of this fluid causes increased pressure in the brain.

Hydrocephalus can be inherited genetically, may be associated with developmental disorders like spina bifida or encephalocele, or occur as a result of brain tumors, head injuries, hemorrhage, or diseases such as meningitis. Hydrocephalus can occur at any age, but is most common in infants and adults age 60 and older.

Symptoms of hydrocephalus include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in vision
  • Changes in personality
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty walking or feeling off-balance
  • Bladder control problems (as the condition progresses)


Various imaging studies may be needed to confirm the diagnosis of hydrocephalus and to identify the cause and extent of fluid accumulation. These would include a computed topography (CT) scan of the head and an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain.

Treatment Options

Hydrocephalus is a chronic condition. It can be controlled, but usually not cured. With appropriate early treatment, however, many people with hydrocephalus lead normal lives with few limitations.

Treatment for hydrocephalus is dependent on the cause, the amount of fluid accumulated, and the overall health of the patient. A device called a shunt may be necessary to remove the excess fluid from the brain if the pressure in the brain is reaching an unsafe level.

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