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Hydrocephalus, generally speaking, means an increased accumulation of fluid in the brain. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, which is produced in the ventricles of the brain and circulates through the ventricular system. The CSF is absorbed into the bloodstream at a rate equal to the rate of the production. When more CSF is produced in the ventricles of the brain than the bloodstream absorbs, an increase of CSF is found in the brain. This condition is called hydrocephalus.
There are two types of hydrocephalus: communicating hydrocephalus (also known as non-obstructive hydrocephalus), and noncommunicating hydrocephalus (or obstructive hydrocephalus). In communicating hydrocephalus, the problem with the absorption of CSF is not caused by any blockage or obstruction of the ventricular pathways. There is some other problem that is impeding the natural absorption of the CSF into the system. In non-communicating hydrocephalus, there is a blockage of the ventricular pathways that is affecting the flow of CSF through the system.
Some patients are born with hydrocephalus. When congenital, the condition is usually detected soon after birth. Other patients acquire hydrocephalus after traumatic occurrences to the brain, such as head injury or brain tumor, or after an illness or infection.
How Is Hydrocephalus Treated?
There is no known way to prevent or cure hydrocephalus. The most effective treatment is surgical insertion of a shunt.
A shunt is a flexible tube placed into the ventricular system that diverts the flow of CSF into another region of the body where it can be absorbed, such as the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity or the right atrium of the heart. The shunt tube is about 1/8 inch in diameter and is made of a soft and pliable plastic that is well tolerated by our body tissues. The valve in the shunt maintains the CSF at normal pressure within the ventricles.
In many cases, prompt treatment can reverse many of the symptoms of hydrocephalus, restoring much cognitive and physical functioning. If left untreated, however, symptoms can become quite disabling, leading to severe cognitive and physical decline.
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