Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek words for “water” and “head” and is translated as “water on the brain.” It’s a condition where too much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up within the ventricles — the fluid-filled cavities — in the brain. The pressure it exerts on the brain’s tissues can lead to a wide range of uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms.
At Center for Neurosurgery Las Vegas, board-certified, multi-fellowship-trained neurosurgeon Dr. Scott Glickman and his staff provide a number of surgical options to treat hydrocephalus and restore CSF to healthy levels. Here’s what you need to know about the condition and the treatment options to deal with it.
More about cerebrospinal fluid
CSF is a clear, colorless fluid that protects and cushions the brain and spinal cord (the central nervous system, or CNS). Normally, it flows through the ventricles, bathing the brain and spinal cord before being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Your body produces enough CSF for its needs that day and absorbs the same amount.
However, when the normal flow is blocked, or the CSF can’t be completely absorbed, CSF builds up in the ventricles, exerts pressure on the brain, and prevents it from functioning properly. The build-up can lead to brain damage and even death.
Causes of hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus may be congenital (present at birth) or be acquired (develop over time due to injury or disease). Except for cases where a tumor blocks CSF’s flow, the causes of hydrocephalus aren’t well understood.
Babies can be born with hydrocephalus or develop the condition right after they’re born. The most likely causes in these cases are:
- Genetic abnormalities
- Developmental disorders associated with birth defects in the brain, spine, or spinal cord
- Complications of premature birth
- Infection during pregnancy that causes inflammation in the fetal brain tissue
By some estimates, 1-2 of every 1,000 babies are born with hydrocephalus.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing hydrocephalus at any age, including:
- CNS tumors that block CSF flow
- CNS infections, such as bacterial meningitis
- Injury or stroke that causes bleeding in the brain
Bleeding into the ventricles increases the pressure inside the cavities, leading to pressure on the brain tissue.
Symptoms in young- to middle-aged adults include:
- Blurry or double vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Balance problems
- Loss of developmental progress, such as walking or talking
- Poor coordination
- Loss of bladder control
- Irritability or changes in personality
- Cognitive changes, including memory loss
As many of these symptoms can be caused by problems other than hydrocephalus, it’s important to come into Center for Neurosurgery Las Vegas to get an accurate diagnosis.
Dr. Glickman treats hydrocephalus using one of three surgical techniques.
A shunt can be a flexible tube that Dr. Glickman places under the skin to carry excess cerebrospinal fluid out of the brain, or it may be a small opening he creates in one of the ventricles to help the fluid drain. The shunt system usually remains in place for your whole life, though it can be adjusted as needed.
2. Tumor removal
If any kind of tumor is causing the blockage of CSF, Dr. Glickman removes it. Some people require both shunts and tumor removal to successfully resolve hydrocephalus.
3. Endoscopic third ventriculostomy
This is a less-common procedure, during which Dr. Glickman uses an endoscope, a tube with a tiny camera on its end, to view the ventricles. He then creates a new pathway to allow for proper CSF flow.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of hydrocephalus, make an appointment to see Dr. Glickman ASAP to get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment before you suffer any permanent ill effects. To schedule, call our office at 702-929-8242, text us at 725-210-0057, or book your appointment online.