What is Hydrocephalus – definition and treatment

Hydrocephalus is a condition characterized by an increase in the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. The cerebrospinal fluid represents a lake between the arteries and the brain and is the fluid which bathes the membranes of the brain.

If there is some obstruction, or block, to the passage of this fluid, a dam is set us in which the fluid pressure builds up, causing a rapid increase in size of the head, with a separation of the bony sutures. The scalp veins become distended and the spaces between the bones (fontanels) become markedly enlarged. Growth and development are retarded. Increased pressure on the brain may also cause neurological symptoms.

Another form of hydrocephalus is called “communicating.” This is the most common form; the block is in the intracranial subarachnoid space.

The imbalance occurs because absorption of cerebrospinal does not equal its production; the head becomes quite ispherical due to the increased cerebrospinal pressure. Treatment is therefore directed to getting rid of the excess cerebro-spinal fluid. It is best to treat this condition as early as possible. Diagnosis is by X-ray and spinal tap.

Treatment is usually by means of some form of shunt or insertion of a polyethylene valve or tube which will permit cerebrospinal fluid to drain into another area. Many cases of hydrocephalus remain minimal and require no surgical interference.