Science: What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek: “hydro” means water, “cephalus” means head. Hydrocephalus is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within cavities called ventricles inside the brain. CSF is produced in the ventricles, circulates through the ventricular system and is absorbed into the bloodstream. CSF is in constant circulation and has many important functions. It surrounds the brain and spinal cord and acts as a protective cushion against injury. CSF contains nutrients and proteins necessary for the nourishment and normal function of the brain. It also carries waste products away from surrounding tissues. Hydrocephalus occurs when there is an imbalance between the amount of CSF that is produced and the rate at which it is absorbed. As the CSF builds up, it causes the ventricles to enlarge and the pressure inside the head to increase.

Hydrocephalus that is congenital (present at birth) is thought to be caused by a complex interaction of environmental and perhaps genetic factors. Aqueductal stenosis and spina bifida are two examples. Acquired hydrocephalus may result from intraventricular hemorrhage, meningitis, head trauma, tumors and cysts. Hydrocephalus is believed to occur in about 2 out of 1,000 births. The incidences of adult-onset hydrocephalus and acquired hydrocephalus are not known.

How Is Hydrocephalus Treated?

There is no known way to prevent or cure hydrocephalus. The most effective treatment is surgical insertion of a shunt (most drain from the brain into the stomach or heart). Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) is growing in popularity as an alternative treatment method for hydrocephalus. Unfortunately, this cannot be used for all patients.

[Definition courtesy of The Hydrocephalus Association website. If you have hydrocephalus or are the parent of someone with hydrocephalus, please go to the Association’s website and register in their research database.]