Page added to clipboard.

About Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Most patients who have hydrocephalus need shunt placement surgery. The shunt reroutes excess fluid to an area in the body where it can be safely reabsorbed.

Within the skull is a network of four ventricles connected by narrow passageways. Through this network, called the ventricular system, a clear fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows to provide support and nourishment to the brain.

CSF is produced by the choroid plexus and then continuously cycles through the ventricular system, and around the brain and spinal cord, to deliver nutrients and pick up waste. Then the CSF flows to small cavities in the skull where it can be absorbed by the bloodstream.

When the cycling process is disrupted, fluid builds up in the brain. Because the skull is rigid and cannot accommodate the buildup of fluid, intracranial pressure rises; this is hydrocephalus. Left untreated, hydrocephalus can damage brain tissue and be life-threatening.

Various problems may bring about hydrocephalus. Physicians classify each instance according to what causes it to arise, using one or more of the following terms:

  • Communicating hydrocephalus: CSF flows unobstructed through the ventricular system but is not properly absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Noncommunicating hydrocephalus: The flow of CSF through the ventricular system is obstructed, often by a brain cyst or brain tumor.
  • Compensated hydrocephalus: The ventricles gradually expand to accommodate an increase in the volume of CSF, and then they stop expanding as intracranial pressure becomes normalized. (Usually diagnosed incidentally during adulthood and asymptomatic.)
  • Hydrocephalus ex-vacuo: usually occurs during adulthood; it is the result of a condition or disease that causes a loss of brain tissue and therefore an increase in ventricle size. Possible causes include traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer disease or stroke.

Physicians further distinguish among cases of hydrocephalus on the basis of when they develop:

  • Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth as a result either of genetic abnormalities or events during fetal development.
  • Acquired hydrocephalus results from another disease or condition, such as head trauma, brain tumor or brain cyst.

For more information about pediatric hydrocephalus, please click here.

patient journey

Use this button to save pages to your clipboard for future use.

OK. Got it.