Acquired and Congenital Hydrocephalus: "Water on the Brain"
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Acquired and Congenital Hydrocephalus: "Water on the Brain"

Acquired and Congenital Hydrocephalus is a very serious condition that causes a patientÂ’s brain to become pressed against the sides of the skull ultimately leading to long term effects of mental retardation and even death. Although most commonly seen with infants, hydrocephalus can also occur in adults through disease and injury.

Hydrocephalus, commonly known as ‘water on the brain’, is a buildup of fluid inside the skull that can lead to brain swelling and even death if left untreated.  Pediatric hydrocephalus is most often seen and affects roughly 1 in every 500 newborns due to genetic mishaps or complications with fetus development.  Hydrocephalus that is present at birth is known as congenital hydrocephalus and is one of the most common developmental disabilities, even more so than Down syndrome.  Hydrocephalus can also occur at any age by either disease or injury specifically to the skull.  This is known as acquired hydrocephalus and is commonly seen in adults and athletes.   

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is the fluid that flows through the brain carrying nutrients through ventricles while at the same time taking away waste from the brain and than is reabsorbed into the bloodstream.  CSF also acts as a cushion for the brain protecting it from mild injuries.  Hydrocephalus occurs when the flow of cerebrospinal fluid either becomes blocked or overproduced.  Once this happens, the buildup of fluid, or lack thereof, can cause pressure on the brain causing it to become pressed against the sides of the skull leading to tissue damage or worse.

Symptoms of congenital hydrocephalus are usually present at birth and include seizures, the head to appear larger in size, vomiting, sleepiness, separated sutures and irritability.  The primary causes of acquired hydrocephalus are strokes, infections, tumors and even bleeding of the brain and include symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, issues balancing, blurry vision, bladder problems and memory loss.  Leaving symptoms from both acquired and congenital hydrocephalus untreated can eventually cause severe mental, physical, and intellectual brain damage.  The mortality rate for untreated hydrocephalus ranges between 50 and 60 percent.

Properly testing for hydrocephalus depends first on the patient’s age, clinical presentation and current symptoms.  Physicians are limited to the amount of diagnostic tools they can use due to the fact that hydrocephalus can affect such a wide range of age groups.  However, through neurological testing and MRI’s, a physician can decide the best form of treatment necessary.  Other tests conducted may be lumbar punctures and even cranial ultrasounds. 

Treatment first begins with immediately reducing any brain or tissue damage that might be occurring.  This can either be done through a surgical procedure or by a physician inserting a flexible tube called a ‘shunt’ in the patient’s brain to assist with CSF flow.  If infection is the leading cause of hydrocephalus than a physician will administer antibiotics in order to help reduce the amount of bacteria from spreading.         


Hydrocephalus Fact Sheet” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes.

Hydrocephalus.” The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment.

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