Hydrocephalus: Understanding Water on the Brain

Hydrocephalus: Understanding Water on the Brain


Hydrocephalus, often referred to as “water on the brain,” is a neurological condition characterized by an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the cavities of the brain, leading to increased intracranial pressure. This condition can affect individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly, and can result from various underlying causes. In this article, we will explore what water on the brain is, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and the impact it has on affected individuals.


Understanding Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus, a Greek term meaning “water on the head,” is a condition where the balance between the production and absorption of cerebrospinal fluid is disrupted, leading to an excess buildup of this fluid in the brain’s ventricles or cavities. CSF plays a crucial role in cushioning the brain and spinal cord, maintaining their pressure, and removing waste products. When the circulation or absorption of CSF is impaired, it can result in water on the brain.

Causes of Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus can develop for a variety of reasons, and it can be classified into several categories based on its underlying causes:

  1. Congenital Hydrocephalus: This type of water on the brain is present at birth and may result from genetic factors, prenatal infections, or developmental abnormalities. It is often diagnosed during infancy or childhood.
  2. Acquired Hydrocephalus: Acquired water on the brain can develop later in life and may be caused by factors such as head injuries, brain tumors, infections, bleeding in the brain, or inflammatory conditions like meningitis.
  3. Communicating Hydrocephalus: In this type, there is an imbalance in the production and absorption of CSF, leading to its accumulation within the ventricles. It can result from various factors, including infections and hemorrhages.
  4. Non-Communicating (Obstructive) Hydrocephalus: This type is characterized by an obstruction within the CSF pathways, preventing the fluid from flowing freely. Common causes include congenital blockages or acquired obstructions like tumors or cysts.

Common Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

The symptoms of water on the brain can vary depending on the age of the affected individual and the rate at which the condition develops. Common symptoms include:

  1. Infants: In infants, symptoms may include an enlarged head, rapid increase in head circumference, irritability, vomiting, sleepiness, and poor feeding.
  2. Children and Adults: Older individuals may experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, vision problems, difficulty with balance and coordination, and cognitive or memory issues.

Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus

Diagnosing hydrocephalus typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests, including:

  1. Physical Examination: A neurological examination to assess symptoms, such as changes in reflexes, muscle tone, and overall brain function.
  2. Imaging Studies: Imaging tests like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scans are crucial for visualizing the brain and detecting any abnormalities related to water on the brain.
  3. Lumbar Puncture: A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, may be performed to measure CSF pressure and analyze its composition.
  4. Ultrasound: For infants, cranial ultrasound can help assess the ventricles and diagnose water on the brain.

Treatment Options

The treatment of water on the brain primarily aims to relieve the excessive accumulation of CSF and reduce intracranial pressure. Common treatment options include:

  1. Shunt Placement: A surgical procedure where a shunt, a thin tube, is inserted to divert excess CSF from the brain’s ventricles to another part of the body where it can be absorbed.
  2. Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV): An alternative surgical approach that creates a hole in the third ventricle to allow CSF to bypass obstructions and flow freely.
  3. Medications: In some cases, medications may be used to reduce CSF production temporarily.
  4. Regular Monitoring: For milder cases, particularly in older adults, close monitoring may be sufficient, without the need for surgical intervention.

Treatment Options for Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus, a condition characterized by an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the brain, requires prompt and effective treatment to alleviate symptoms and reduce intracranial pressure. Treatment options for water on the brain may vary based on the underlying cause, the patient’s age, and the severity of the condition. Here are the key treatment options:

  1. Shunt Placement:
    • Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) Shunt: The most common type of shunt, where a thin tube (catheter) is surgically inserted into a brain ventricle to divert excess CSF into the abdominal cavity, where it can be reabsorbed.
    • Ventriculoatrial (VA) Shunt: Less commonly used, this type of shunt diverts CSF into a vein within the chest to be carried away by the bloodstream.
  2. Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV):
    • ETV is a surgical procedure that creates a small hole in the floor of the third ventricle, allowing CSF to bypass obstructions and flow freely. It is a viable option for certain types of non-communicating water on the brain.
  3. Lumboperitoneal Shunt (LP Shunt):
    • LP shunts are used when there’s a need to drain CSF from the lumbar region of the spine into the peritoneal cavity. They are often considered for adult patients with communicating water on the brain.
  4. Medications:
    • Some medications can temporarily reduce CSF production in certain cases, providing short-term relief. Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, like acetazolamide, may be prescribed.
  5. Elevated Head Position:
    • In some cases, adjusting the position of the head, such as sleeping with the head elevated, can help reduce intracranial pressure and alleviate symptoms, particularly in infants.
  6. Regular Monitoring:
    • In milder cases, especially in elderly individuals, close monitoring and watchful waiting may be the preferred approach, with treatment initiated if symptoms worsen.
  7. Revision Surgery:
    • In some instances, shunt revision or replacement may be necessary due to complications, blockages, or shunt malfunction. These revisions aim to ensure proper CSF drainage.
  8. Antibiotics and Anti-inflammatory Medications:
    • In cases of water on the brain caused by infections or inflammation, such as bacterial or viral meningitis, appropriate antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to treat the underlying condition.
  9. Cautious Management of Intracranial Pressure (ICP):
    • In emergency situations, measures may be taken to manage increased intracranial pressure, which can include medications, drainage, or the use of an external ventricular drain (EVD) to relieve CSF pressure temporarily.

Treatment decisions are individualized based on the specific needs of the patient and the type of water on the brain they have. Timely diagnosis and expert evaluation by a neurosurgeon or neurologist are crucial to determine the most suitable treatment approach and optimize the outcome for individuals affected by hydrocephalus.


Hydrocephalus is a complex neurological condition characterized by the abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid within the brain, which can lead to increased intracranial pressure and a range of symptoms. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential to manage water on the brain effectively and improve the quality of life for affected individuals. With ongoing research and medical advancements, there is hope for improved treatments and outcomes for those living with this condition.

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