Understanding Hydrocephalus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Hydrocephalus poses a life-threatening condition that can lead to mental impairment and death if left untreated. When cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) accumulates in the brain, it increases pressure on the skull. In older adults, double vision and headaches may signal hydrocephalus. In babies, you may notice a change in head size. Hydrocephalus translates to water in the brain and requires immediate treatment to prevent developmental and intellectual disabilities. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), about one in every 1,000 babies has hydrocephalus at birth. In some cases, surgery may be required to alleviate the condition.

Understanding the Causes of Hydrocephalus

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows between the spinal cord and the brain. Under the following conditions, CSF may increase:

  • A blockage obstructs the flow of CSF
  • Blood vessels cannot absorb the fluid effectively
  • Your brain overproduces CSF

If too much of this fluid accumulates in the brain, it causes brain swelling and can damage your brain tissue.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

For infants, symptoms include a large head or rapid increase in the size of the baby’s head. Some infants may develop a bulging fontanel (soft spot). In toddlers and children, symptoms include blurry vision, headache, unusually large head, vomiting, lethargy, and sleepiness. In adults over 60, hydrocephalus may cause memory loss, frequent urination, loss of reasoning skills, difficulty walking, and poor balance.

Hydrocephalus Treatment

Hydrocephalus requires urgent care to alleviate the pressure on the brain. Left untreated, the condition can damage the brain stem, which regulates the heartbeat and breathing. There are several treatment options available.

Shunt and Catheter

Neurosurgeons can install a shunt to drain the excess fluid through a catheter. This drains the excess CSF into your abdomen, chest cavity, or the heart, and resolves the issue without further treatment. Those who develop hydrocephalus often have a shunt system permanently installed. Therefore, children with a shunt and catheter in place will need additional surgeries as they get older.


The neurosurgeon can also make a hole in one of four ventricles found in the brain to guide CSF to the base of the brain for proper absorption.

Lumbar Puncture

During this procedure, the surgeon drains cerebrospinal fluid from the base of your spine. Sometimes, this improves mental ability and helps the patient to walk better. If so, the surgeon can fit a shunt to improve drainage.

Lumbar Infusion Test

The surgeon inserts a needle and injects fluid into the spine to measure the pressure of the CSF. If the pressure is too high, the doctor can install a shunt to relieve the pressure.

If hydrocephalus threatens the cognitive and physical health of someone you love, it’s time to seek help from Dr. Lewis at Jackson Neurosurgery Clinic. You receive a prompt diagnosis and treatment plan. Dr. Lewis has many years of experience in spinal treatment and surgery. He teaches surgical courses and has helped develop specialized equipment to perform complex procedures that aim to improve the health and wellness of patients.

Call (601) 366-1011 to set up a consultation to discuss hydrocephalus and other neurological issues. We’ll find a solution that works for you.