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Hydrocephalus

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Houston Methodist is a proven leader in the care of hydrocephalus, a serious neurological condition that requires expert treatment. Our passionate team combines decades of specialized expertise to diagnose and manage all types of hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus is the buildup of fluid deep within the brain — this delicate condition is also known as water on the brain. Our specialized care program is built around you, offering a personalized approach and the most advanced treatments to help relieve symptoms.

Your brain and spinal cord are protected and nourished by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is produced by your brain throughout the day. In most people, excess CSF is harmlessly reabsorbed by your brain and body. Hydrocephalus prevents the brain from eliminating excess CSF, causing increased pressure in the skull and a variety of symptoms such as: 

  •  Coordination issues
  • Falling or frequent loss of balance
  • Headache
  • Impaired vision
  • Loss of bladder control or frequent urination urges
  • Memory, concentration or cognitive issues (trouble thinking or reasoning)
  • Sleepiness, difficulty waking up or staying awake
  • Slower than normal body movements
  • Trouble walking, a shuffling gait or the feeling of the feet being stuck

Hydrocephalus symptoms vary, depending on your age and disease progression.

Diagnosing & Treating Hydrocephalus

How is hydrocephalus diagnosed?

Understanding the type and root cause of your hydrocephalus is an important part of developing an effective treatment plan. At Houston Methodist, you’ll receive a comprehensive neurological exam and testing by our experienced team. We’ll spend time getting to know you and understanding your symptoms and concerns. You can expect:

 

  • Physical exam of your muscle tone and reflexes
  • Sensory exam to evaluate your hearing, vision, eye movement and touch
  • Coordination and balance testing
  • Psychiatric evaluation of your mental status and mood
  • Brain imaging, using ultrasound, MRI or CT scans
  • Lumbar puncture or lumbar drain trial (in some cases)

Based on our findings, you may be diagnosed with one of three types of hydrocephalus:

 

  • Communicating – occurs when cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow is blocked after it exits the ventricles. 
  • Noncommunicating – also called obstructive hydrocephalus, occurs when CSF flow is blocked along at least one passage connecting the ventricles.
  • Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) – CSF drainage gradually becomes blocked, and fluid slowly builds up.

Hydrocephalus can be caused by a variety of neurological conditions, including: 

 

  • Aqueductal stenosis – a narrowing of the channels that connect ventricles in the brain
  • Bleeding in the brain from head trauma or stroke
  • Brain tumors
  • Chiari malformation – a condition present at birth in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal
  • Colloid cysts 
  • Congenital malformations (physical anomalies present at birth) defect
  • Dandy-Walker syndrome 
  • Infection
  • Myelomeningocele – a spine and spinal cord defect
  • Pituitary tumors
  • Raised venous pressure in the venous sinuses
  • Vascular malformations
 

What treatments are available?

Hydrocephalus is a chronic condition that is manageable with expert care. We offer the most advanced techniques and latest treatment available — from various shunts to minimally invasive endoscopic procedures. Our goal is to tailor treatments based on your individual needs. Our treatment options include:

 

  • Shunt – During  surgery, a neurosurgeon inserts a small tube with a valve into the brain to allow fluid to safely drain and reabsorb into the body. 
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy – An alternative to a shunt, this surgical procedure uses an endoscope (thin tube) with tiny instruments and a lens on the end to see inside the brain and make a small hole in the bottom of a ventricle or between ventricles to allow CSF to flow out of the brain. 
  • Diuretic therapies – These treatments decrease CSF production, which can be used alone or with surgical therapies. Some patients respond well to diuretics alone.

I need advanced care or a second opinion.

An accurate diagnosis is key to relieving hydrocephalus symptoms. Houston Methodist’s team of specialists will uncover the source of your condition and design a personalized treatment plan to reduce the impact of hydrocephalus on your daily life and improve your physical and emotional well-being.

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