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What is hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek hydro meaning water and cephalie, meaning brain. A watery fluid, known as cerebro-spinal fluid or CSF, is produced constantly inside each of the four spaces or ventricles inside the brain: between 400 and 600mls is produced each day. The CSF normally flows through narrow pathways from one ventricle to the next, then out over the outside of the brain and down the spinal cord. The CSF is absorbed into the bloodstream, and the amount and pressure are normally kept within a fairly narrow range.

If the drainage of CSF is prevented at any point, the fluid accumulates in the ventricles inside the brain, causing them to swell and resulting in compression of the surrounding tissue. In babies and infants, the head will enlarge. In older children and adults, the head size cannot increase as the bones which form the skull are completely joined together.

What causes hydrocephalus?

The condition is caused by the inability of CSF to drain away into the bloodstream. There are many reasons why this can happen. Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired.

  • brain scan


Cerebrum: The main part of the brain, in two halves one on each side (left and right hemispheres).

Cerebellum: The smaller part of the brain at the back of the head, involved in muscular coordination.

Ventricles: Connected spaces inside the brain, where CSF is produced. There are two lateral ventricles (one each side), a third ventricle and a fourth ventricle. CSF flows from here over the outside of the brain before being absorbed back into the bloodstream.

Choroid plexus: The organ that makes CSF.

Superior sagittal sinus: The major vein that runs over the centre of the top of the brain and collects CSF, draining it back into the central bloodstream.

Pituitary gland: A gland situated in the brain cavity but just behind the face. It is very important in secreting a large number of hormones that regulate body function and development. An example is growth hormone, and others are involved in sexual development.

Brainstem: A very important area connecting the spinal cord to the brain. It controls breathing and other vital functions.

Spinal cord: A complex trunk of nerves transmitting impulses to all parts of the body, allowing muscle movement, sensation and reflexes.


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Did You Know?

Some babies with spina bifida are now operated on before they are born via keyhole surgery.

Hydrocephalus can be congenital or acquired.

NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) is an excessive build-up of fluid in the head.

Hydrocephalus is a build up of excess fluid in the brain.

Some 11 - 35% of people with Intracranial Hypertension recover spontaneously!

Most babies with spina bifida undergo surgery within 48 hours of birth.

“Every effort should be made to ensure that all children are immunized, no opportunity to immunize should be missed.”

If you have spina bifida +/or hydrocephalus you should receive the same vaccinations as any others, when going abroad.

Hydrocephalus comes from the Greek "hydro" meaning water and "cephalie", meaning brain.

Some forms of hydrocephalus require no specific treatment.

Medical advice should always be sought if shunt infection is suspected!

Shunt: a device that diverts accumulated CSF around the obstructed pathways back to the bloodstream.

Possible signs of chronic shunt blockage include: 
fatigue, general malaise or behavioural changes.

A shunt alert card should be carried at all times by people with hydrocephalus treated by a shunt.

Possible signs of acute shunt blockage may include: visual disturbances, drowsiness and fits.

Symptoms of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus are similar to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease or simply increasing age.

NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus) occurs most often in people aged over 60.

Benign Intracranial Hypertension aka Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension affects about one or two in every 100,000 people!

Symptoms associated with raised intracranial pressure; headache, visual disturbances, photophobia, vomiting, problems with balance.....

Diagnosis of Intracranial Hypertension is by scan + measurement of the CSF pressure.

Babies born prematurely are at increased risk of developing hydrocephalus.

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Para-athletes with spina bifida and hydrocephalus compete in sports ranging from cycling to dressage.

Hydrocephalus may affect memory, concentration and behaviour.

The usual treatment for hydrocephalus is to insert a shunt into the brain.

CSF stands for cerebro-spinal fluid.

Benny Bear is a teddy with hydrocephalus who helps children understand the condition.

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Spina bifida occulta is a hidden form of spina bifida.


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