Hydrocephalus is a serious condition in which fluid builds up in the brain. It affects people of all ages, from infants to adults, with over 1,000,000 people living with the condition in the United States. It can cause a number of symptoms, including pressure on the brain, leading to damage. There are different types of hydrocephalus, although the exact cause of the condition is still not completely understood.
What Is Hydrocephalus?
Hydrocephalus is an excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within cavities in the brain, known as ventricles. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is the liquid that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord. It also supplies nutrients to the central nervous system, which are essential for the nourishment and normal function of the brain, and eliminates waste products from surrounding tissues. It is produced in the choroid plexus (a network of blood vessels), located within the ventricles, and is circulated around the ventricular system, eventually being absorbed into the bloodstream.
Hydrocephalus occurs when there is an imbalance between how much CSF is being produced, and the rate at which it is being absorbed into the bloodstream. An excessive accumulation of CSF can cause the ventricles to enlarge, which can put pressure on the tissues of the brain.
Causes Of Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus can be congenital, meaning it is present at birth, or be acquired later on, meaning it develops during or after birth. It can also be described as communicating or non-communicating. Communicating hydrocephalus means the CSF can still flow freely between the ventricles, which remain open, but then gets blocked after it exits the ventricles. Non communicating hydrocephalus occurs when there is a physical blockage, such as a tumor, somewhere within the narrow passages of the ventricular system.
Congenital hydrocephalus is caused by a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors during fetal development, such as a mutation of the X chromosome. The most common cause of congenital hydrocephalus is an obstruction called aqueductal stenosis, which occurs when the passage is narrowed or blocked as a result of an infection, hemorrhage, or tumor. It can also result from a condition such as spina bifida, which can cause CSF to leak out, and is caused by defects in the spinal cord during fetal development. Arachnoid cysts, Chiara malformation, and Dandy-Walker syndrome (a rare genetic disorder), are other less common causes of congenital hydrocephalus.
Acquired hydrocephalus is typically the result of an injury or illness. Possible causes can include bleeding inside the brain (intraventricular hemorrhage), a blood clot, an infection such as meningitis, a brain tumor, an injury or trauma to the head, a cyst, or stroke. Some people may be born with narrowed passageways within the brain, which can restrict the flow of CSF. They may, however, not experience any symptoms until later on in life.
Older adults can sometimes develop normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH). It is not always clear why the condition develops, but it may be linked to other underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or high cholesterol. It can occur following a brain injury, bleeding in the brain, or from an infection.
Symptoms of hydrocephalus can vary depending on the type of condition and the age of the person affected. The most common symptoms include headaches, vomiting, impaired vision, confusion, and difficulty walking. Infants born with congenital hydrocephalus are also often born with distinctive physical features, such as an unusually large head and downward looking eyes, and can exhibit other symptoms including poor feeding, irritability, and muscle stiffness.
Neurosurgery in Lone Tree, Colorado Springs, and Aurora
At Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery, we focus on both surgical and non-surgical treatments as well as advanced microsurgical treatments for a wide range of neurological conditions, such as hydrocephalus. We practice comprehensive, patient-centered care designed to help you achieve the best possible outcomes, and believe that an informed patient is the best patient. If you would like more information about the services we offer, call us today at (303) 790-1800 or use our online form to request an appointment today.