Hydrocephalus is a condition associated with excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. CSF is a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and provides three life-sustaining functions: (1) keeps the brain tissue floating so that it can absorb shock to the head; (2) allows for transportation of nutrients to the brain and removes waste; and (3) flows between the cranium and spine and compensates for changes in the amount of blood within the brain. The balance between production and absorption of CSF is critical to proper function of the brain. Excessive accumulation of CSF results in an abnormal widening of ventricles (communicating network used by the brain), which creates potentially harmful pressure on the brain tissue.
Symptoms of hydrocephalus may vary among individuals. Hydrocephalus in infants often leads to a rapid increase in head circumference due to the expansion of their skull under excessive CSF accumulation. Other symptoms may include vomiting, irritability and seizures. Children and adults may experience different symptoms, including headaches followed by vomiting, nausea, blurred or double vision, problems with balance, poor coordination, or even changes in personality or cognition including memory loss.
Hydrocephalus can be either congenital or acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth and may be caused by either events that occur during fetal development, or genetic abnormalities. Acquired hydrocephalus develops at the time of birth or after. This type of hydrocephalus can affect individuals of all ages and may be caused by injury or disease.
Causes of hydrocephalus are still unknown. It may result from inherited genetic abnormalities or developmental disorders such as those associated with neural defects including spina bifida and encephalocele. Other possible causes include complications during premature birth such as intraventricular hemorrhage and diseases such as tumors and traumatic brain injury. Active service members and veterans who have traumatic brain injury are especially susceptible to hydrocephalus. Currently, there are no effective cures for hydrocephalus.