Hydrocephalus refers to the buildup of fluid in the cavities of the skull which leads to the swelling of the brain. This causes brain damage due to increase in the pressure on the brain resulting in physical, developmental and intellectual impairment of the affected person. This condition can be fatal if timely treatment is not provided.
Symptoms of hydrocephalus vary with age due to the difference in their tolerance levels to the condition. They also change with the progression of the disease.
In babies born with hydrocephalus (congenital hydrocephalus), the physical features include:
Additionally, the child will have difficulty with feeding, vomiting, muscle stiffness or spasms in the lower limbs and difficulty with sleep.
In children who have acquired hydrocephalus after birth or in adults, the symptoms may include:
Hydrocephalus occurs when there is an increase in the volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that circulates through the brain and the spinal cord. There is an increase in CSF due to the following reasons:
If the doctor suspects hydrocephalus from the symptoms experienced by the person, he/she will perform a physical examination. This includes checking for the presence of slowed reflexes, bulged fontanel, sunken eyes and a larger head circumference than the normal.
Neurological examination includes checking for:
Further, the below tests may be ordered:
Imaging tests such as an ultrasound or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computerized tomography) scan may be required to the underlying cause of hydrocephalus. They can also detect structural changes such as enlargement of the ventricles associated with the increase in CSF.
Hydrocephalus can be life-threatening if appropriate treatment is not provided. Treatment may not help in reversing the brain damage that has previously occurred. However, further damage can be prevented by restoring the normal flow of CSF. Hydrocephalus needs to be repaired by surgical approach. The options include:
Hydrocephalus cannot be prevented; however, there are some ways to reduce the risk of developing this condition. The preventive measures are as follow.
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