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5 Conditions that Cause Hydrocephalus

5 Conditions that Cause Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus (literally “water on the brain”) is a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. The excess fluid increases pressure on the brain’s tissues, which can damage them. Left untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal.

At Center for Neurosurgery Las Vegas, Dr. Scott Glickman, a board-certified, multi-fellowship-trained neurosurgeon, has extensive experience with hydrocephalus and the conditions that cause it. Here’s what he wants you to know about the causes of hydrocephalus and what the practice can do to treat it.

The function of CSF

Cerebrospinal fluid has three important functions:

  1. Protects the brain from damage
  2. Removes waste products from the brain
  3. Provides the brain with nutrients so it can function properly

The brain produces about a pint a day of new CSF. The old CSF drains out of the brain space, to be absorbed by the blood vessels. However, if something interrupts this process, the amount of CSF can build up quickly, causing pressure on the brain and a host of symptoms.

Types of hydrocephalus and 5 conditions that cause it

There are three forms of hydrocephalus:

  1. Congenital: present at birth
  2. Acquired: develops after birth
  3. Normal pressure: usually only develops in older people

Each is caused by a different condition.


A baby with congenital hydrocephalus is born with excess fluid in their brain. It may be caused by an infection the mother contracts during pregnancy, such as 1) mumps or 2) rubella.

It may also be caused by a condition like 3) spina bifida, a type of neural tube defect. The tube either doesn’t develop properly in the fetus, or it fails to close all the way, leading to a gap in the spine and defects in the bony vertebrae.

Many babies born with hydrocephalus have permanent brain damage, leading to long-term complications that include:

These children need extra support at home and school to ensure their needs are being met.


Acquired hydrocephalus can affect both children and adults and usually develops after a 4) serious head injury or as a complication of a medical condition, such as a 5) brain tumor.

Normal pressure

This type of hydrocephalus usually affects those over 60 years old. It’s uncommon and poorly understood. It may be caused by some form of head injury or stroke, but most of the time the cause isn’t clear.

Symptoms include mobility problems, dementia, and urinary incontinence, which can all be caused by other medical conditions, making a diagnosis critical to ensuring proper treatment.

Treating hydrocephalus

Both congenital and acquired hydrocephalus are treated surgically, either with a shunt or with a neuroendoscopy.

During shunt surgery, a thin tube is implanted in the brain, allowing excess CSF to flow through to another part of your body, usually the stomach. From there, it's absorbed into the bloodstream. Inside the shunt, there's a valve that controls the rate of CSF flow, so it doesn’t drain too quickly.

An alternative procedure is an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV). Instead of inserting a shunt, the surgeon places a hole in the floor of the brain, allowing the trapped CSF to escape to the brain's surface, where it can be absorbed. This is a good option if the CSF build-up is caused by a blockage.

Want to learn more about hydrocephalus? Contact Center for Neurosurgery Las Vegas to schedule a consultation with Dr. Glickman by calling our office at 702-929-8242, texting us at 725-210-0057, or booking your appointment online.

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