The brain produces the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and stores a significant volume of fluid. It is held within compartments of the brain referred to as ventricles. Hydrocephalus is a condition where there is excess fluid within the ventricles. It is sometimes referred to as having fluid on the brain. 

The normal human brain contains cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The clear and colourless fluid circulates through the brain and spine. It main function is to carry nutrients as well as waste products through the brain and spine. It is sometimes referred to as a window to the brain. Removing this fluid and testing it is a common method for diagnosing brain and spine conditions. 

Hydrocephalus can occur in children or in adults. Increased retention of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain leads to increased pressure in the skull. This can cause further damage to the brain tissue. The skull of infants and children is not as rigid. Hydrocephalus can result in the expansion of children’s skulls. In adults, hydrocephalus results in raised intracranial pressure.

Causes of hydrocephalus

Congenital Hydrocephalus

Sometimes hydrocephalus can be congenital and present since birth. This type of disease is  known as congenital hydrocephalus. Congenital Hydrocephalus can be a result of a brain anomaly leading to the restriction of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow.  

Acquired Hydrocephalus

When the disease develops during adulthood or childhood, tit is known as acquired hydrocephalus. Acquired hydrocephalus occurs in older people, adults, and children due to an injury or illness caused to the brain. The exact cause for the occurrence of the disease is still not known.

Hydrocephalus Symptoms

The most common symptoms of hydrocephalus are:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty walking

Hydrocephalus Risk Factors


The membranes in the brain called meninges can swell in a disorder like meningitis. This leads to the formation of scar in the area. This increases the risk of hydrocephalus in patients.

Brain injury

Brain injuries can lead to the overproduction of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the shunt system. This increases the risk of hydrocephalus.

Bleeding in the brain

Bleeding in the brain can lead to the formation of a blood clot in the blood vessel. This blood clot obstructs the flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This increases the CSF pressure within the brain and in some cases leads to hydrocephalus.

Premature delivery

Babies born prematurely can have bleeding in the ventricular system of the brain that may cause hydrocephalus.

Brain tumour

Brain tumours may restrict the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, increasing the risk of hydrocephalus in patients.

Hydrocephalus Diagnosis

A sequence of MRI scans can diagnose hydrocephalus. Evaluation also includes ophthalmological examination. Sometimes further invasive techniques are employed to measure the pressure inside the brain.

Treatment of hydrocephalus

The definitive treatment of hydrocephalus is performing a shunt operation or endoscopic ventriculostomy. This involves putting a tube into the ventricles of the brain. Then the distal end of the tube channels fluid under the skin and into the abdomen. 

In this manner, excess fluid is drained, alleviating pressure and preventing any damage to the brain. It may be preferable to use a programmable shunt which is also MRI compatible. It is not unusual to make adjustments to the shunt valve settings to control and regulate CSF drainage.

Rehabilitation and recovery from hydrocephalus

Physical therapy 

After surgery post hydrocephalus, patients experience difficulty in walking and maintaining their balance. The physical therapist will work with the patient to help regain their balance and walking ability. The therapist will evaluate the level of support a patient needs and make the patient walk using a walker. 

Cognitive therapy 

After the surgery some patients experience problems in thinking. They may experience a decline in cognitive abilities for some time. In such cases, cognitive therapist and neurologist can help the patient to improve thinking and memory skills.

Occupational therapy 

Occupational therapists help the patient handle the activities of daily life. This includes bathing, feeding, activities at workplace, dressing and writing. This therapy can also help a patient, who has difficulty in speaking, and in moving the jaw and tongue.