Hydrocephalus is the buildup of too much cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Normally, this fluid cushions your brain. When you have too much, though, it puts harmful pressure on your brain.
Hydrocephalus can be congenital, or present at birth. Causes include genetic problems and problems with how the fetus develops. An unusually large head is the main sign of congenital hydrocephalus.
Hydrocephalus can also happen after birth. This is called acquired hydrocephalus. It can occur at any age. Causes can include head injuries, strokes, infections, tumors, and bleeding in the brain. Symptoms include
- Vomiting and nausea
- Blurry vision
- Balance problems
- Bladder control problems
- Thinking and memory problems
Hydrocephalus can permanently damage the brain, causing problems with physical and mental development. If untreated, it is usually fatal. With treatment, many people lead normal lives with few limitations. Treatment usually involves surgery to insert a shunt. A shunt is a flexible but sturdy plastic tube. The shunt moves the cerebrospinal fluid to another area of the body where it can be absorbed. Medicine and rehabilitation therapy can also help.
NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Diagnosis and Tests
- Computed Tomography (CT) -- Head (Radiological Society of North America, American College of Radiology) Available in Spanish
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) -- Head (Radiological Society of North America, American College of Radiology) Available in Spanish
- Ultrasound: Head (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation) Available in Spanish
- Genetics Home Reference: Dandy-Walker malformation (National Library of Medicine)
- Genetics Home Reference: L1 syndrome (National Library of Medicine)
- Genetics Home Reference: nonsyndromic holoprosencephaly (National Library of Medicine)
- Genetics Home Reference: primary ciliary dyskinesia (National Library of Medicine)
Videos and Tutorials
- Minimally Invasive-Endoscopic Intraventricular Neurosurgery (OR-Live) - New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY, 2/11/2009
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Hydrocephalus (National Institutes of Health)
Journal ArticlesReferences and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: CASE RECORDS of the MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL. Case 5-2016. A...
- Article: Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt Complications In Children: An Evidence-Based Approach To Emergency...
- Article: Practice guideline: Idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus: Response to shunting and...
- Hydrocephalus -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) (Alzheimer's Association)