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Hydrocephalus: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is a condition of the brain wherein increased accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain cavities result in increase in size of the head. Cerebrospinal fluid is normally found in brain cavities and it is responsible for the cushioning of the brain.

Hydrocephalus: Incidence, age and sex

Hydrocephalus usually affects 1 in 500 individuals in the general population. It may be congenital, in which case it may be seen in children or acquired, wherein both children and adults may be involved.

Signs and symptoms of hydrocephalus: Diagnosis

The most prominent clinical feature of hydrocephalus is the rapid increase in the size of the head which makes the scalp look thin and transparent. The forehead may bulge out and forward causing downward gaze of the eyes. Moreover accumulation of CSF leads to increased intracranial pressure which causes distressing symptoms like headache, nausea and vomiting and seizures. Progressive compression of brain due to excess CSF may lead to behavioural disturbances, intellectual impairment, slurring of speech, loss of memory, blurring of vision or gait in-coordination.

Affected individuals need to consult a neurologist who will conduct a comprehensive neurological examination to assess the effects of hydrocephalus. Imaging investigations like CT scan, and MRI scan will help in detecting hydrocephalus and its cause.

Causes and prevention of hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus can be either congenital (present since birth) or acquired. Congenital hydrocephalus arises due to some genetic structural or functional malformations in brain. On the other hand acquired hydrocephalus, may arise from brain injury, stroke or brain tumour.

Hydrocephalus: Complications

Since the brain is responsible for functions of various parts of the body, its consequences may not be restricted to the brain but may affect the whole body. It may progress to features like loss of vision or impairment of the thought process and paralysis of the limbs. It may even lead to death, if left untreated.

Hydrocephalus: Treatment

It is essential to evaluate the cause of hydrocephalus and subsequently manage it. Hydrocephalus per se can only be treated by surgical intervention wherein a shunt is inserted to divert excess CSF to peritoneal cavity (in abdomen). This kind of surgery is a high risk surgery which may lead to an infection or intestinal perforation. The outlook of hydrocephalus depends upon the underlying cause and its severity.