Hydrocephalus is a condition that develops when fluid builds up in the skull, causing the brain to swell. If unaddressed, the pressure can lead to brain damage. This can lead to developmental, physical and intellectual impairments. Below, we take a closer look at the causes, symptoms and treatment options for hydrocephalus.
Causes and Treatments
Hydrocephalus typically occurs in infants, but it also can develop in older adults or in rare cases, young adults. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, roughly one or two in every 1,000 babies are born with hydrocephalus.
Hydrocephalus is caused by the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid can build up in the skull as a result of a fluid blockage, a decrease in the ability of blood vessels to absorb the fluid, or excess cerebrospinal fluid production. These causes can be brought upon by birth defects, genetic abnormalities or infections that occur during pregnancy. At other stages in life, hydrocephalus can be caused by infections, brain bleeding, head trauma or the onset of tumors.
Symptoms of hydrocephalus in infants include:
- Rapid increase in head circumference
- Extreme fussiness
- Poor feeding
- Excessive sleepiness
Symptoms in toddlers or children include:
- Personality changes
- Changes in facial structure
- Trouble eating
- Delayed growth
- Crossed eyes
- Loss of bladder control
Symptoms in adults include:
- Chronic headaches
- Inhibited walking
- Vision problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Bladder problems
- Coordination problems
Diagnosing and Treating Hydrocephalus
If your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms, your doctor or neurosurgeon will begin by conducting a physical exam. Physical symptoms can help to suggest hydrocephalus, but it will likely be confirmed with an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI. These imaging techniques can help to uncover if swelling is taking place, as well as what is causing it, which can lead to the formation of effective treatment strategies.
Hydrocephalus treatment involves restoring the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This can be achieved with a variety of surgical techniques, including shunt insertion or a ventriculostomy.
Shunt Insertion – A shunt is a drainage system that helps to regulate cerebrospinal fluid flow. One end of the shunt is inserted into your brain, and the other end is inserted into your chest or abdominal cavity. Excess fluid is removed from the brain and distributed to the other end of the tube, where it is more easily absorbed. The shunt is usually a permanent fixture that requires regular monitoring.
Ventriculostomy – This procedure involves making a hole at the bottom of a ventricle or in between ventricles. This allows the cerebrospinal fluid to leave the brain. Your surgeon will determine which operation is best for your particular situation.
For more information about hydrocephalus or how it is treated, reach out to Dr. Chang’s clinic today.