Water on the brain (hydrocephalus) is a serious condition that can cause brain damage

“Water on the brain” or hydrocephalus is a potentially debilitating condition. Let’s break down this disease into five concepts.

  1. Your brain sits inside of your the skull
  2. Your brain is “floating” in a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid
  3. Cerebrospinal fluid does not leak out of your nose, mouth or ears (the visible holes in your skull)
  4. If there is too much cerebrospinal fluid in your skull it could damage your brain
  5. Hydrocephalus occurs when cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain

The Fluid Can’t Get Out Of Your Skull Fast Enough

When fluid builds up in the skull it could lead to brain swelling. Hydrocephalus is a buildup of fluid inside the skull, leading to brain swelling. Hydrocephalus means “water on the brain.” It is due to a problem with the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The fluid brings nutrients to the brain, takes away waste from the brain, and acts as a cushion.

CSF normally moves through areas of the brain called ventricles, then around the outside of the brain and the spinal cord. It is then reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Buildup of CSF can occur in the brain if its flow or absorption is blocked or if too much CSF is produced. This buildup of fluid puts pressure on the brain, pushing the brain up against the skull and damaging or destroying brain tissues.

Can Be Caused By A Birth Defect OR Infection

Hydrocephalus may start while the baby is growing in the womb. It is commonly present when a birth defect causes the spinal column to not close all the way.  Genetic defects and certain infections that occur during pregnancy may also cause hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus may be congenital or acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth and may be caused by either events or influences that occur during fetal development, or genetic abnormalities. Acquired hydrocephalus develops at the time of birth or at some point afterward. This type of hydrocephalus can affect individuals of all ages and may be caused by injury or disease.

Hydrocephalus Can Also Be Caused By Infection 

In young children, hydrocephalus may also be associated with an infection, especially in infants, that affected the central nervous system (such as meningitis or encephalitis). It could also be associated with bleeding in the brain during or soon after delivery, injury before, during, or after childbirth, including subarachnoid hemorrhage, tumors of the central nervous system, including the brain or spinal cord, and injury or trauma.

Symptoms Of Hydrocephalus

Symptoms depend on several factors, including cause of the blockage, age of patient, how much tissue of the brain is affected, etc.

In infants the most obvious indication of hydrocephalus is often a rapid increase in head circumference or an unusually large head size. Other symptoms may include vomiting, sleepiness, irritability, downward deviation of the eyes (also called “sunsetting”), and seizures.

Older children and adults may experience different symptoms because their skulls cannot expand to accommodate the buildup of CSF. Symptoms may include headache followed by vomiting, nausea, papilledema (swelling of the optic disk which is part of the optic nerve), blurred or double vision, sunsetting of the eyes, problems with balance, poor coordination, gait disturbance, urinary incontinence, slowing or loss of developmental progress, lethargy, drowsiness, irritability, or other changes in personality or cognition including memory loss.

A head CT scan is one of the best tests for identifying hydrocephalus.


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