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What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is a condition characterized by excessive accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in and around the brain which can lead to brain damage. The condition can also cause developmental, physical and intellectual impairments.

Hydrocephalus can occur at any age but is more common in children and adults over 60.


Hydrocephalus may result from birth defects, genetic abnormalities or pregnancy-related infections such as rubella. Cerebrospinal fluid can accumulate due to a blockage, causing a decreased ability of the blood vessels to absorb it. Other possible causes of hydrocephalus include:

  • Meningitis
  • Traumatic head injury
  • Tumors
  • Complications during childbirth


Symptoms vary by age of onset. Symptoms in infants include:

  • Bulging fontanel (the skull’s “soft spot”)
  • A rapid increase in head circumference
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Poor feeding
  • Seizures
  • Extreme fussiness
  • Vomiting
  • Eyes that are fixed downward
  • Poor muscle tone and strength

Symptoms in toddlers and older children include:

  • High-pitched cries of short duration
  • Changes in personality and facial structure
  • Problems eating
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of coordination and bladder control 
  • Head that is larger than normal 
  • Trouble staying awake or waking up
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Seizures
  • Crossed eyes
  • Headaches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Delayed growth
  • Concentration problems

Symptoms in young and middle-aged adults include:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Coordination loss
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bladder problems
  • Vision and memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating

Normal-pressure hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs in adults over the age of 60. Symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus include:

  • Changes in walking
  • Impaired mental functions
  • Trouble controlling urination and bowel movements
  • Headaches


Hydrocephalus is diagnosed based on a physical examination. In cases of children, your doctor may check for sunken eyes, slow reflexes, a bulging fontanel, and a head circumference that is larger than normal for their age. Your doctor may also order tests such as ultrasound, MRI and CT scans.


Treatment involves surgical options such as the insertion of a shunt and a ventriculostomy. A ventriculostomy involves making a hole between or at the bottom of the ventricles of the skull to allow CSF to drain from the brain.

  • American Medical Association
  • American College of Osteopathic Surgeons
  • American Osteopathic Association
  • North American Spine