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Understanding Hydrocephalus and What You Can Do About It

Although hydrocephalus can be an intimidating term, it’s less scary when you break down the words. “Hydro” means water, and “cephalus” means brain. That’s how hydrocephalus got its nickname: water on the brain. Whatever you call it, hydrocephalus is often a symptom of other issues that require medical attention.

Dr. Desh Sahni at Capital Brain and Spine in Austin, Texas, specializes in both neurosurgery and orthopedic spine surgery, one of the few medical providers in Texas highly trained in both areas. His expertise and vast experience make him a highly sought-after physician for those suffering from complex brain and spinal issues. If you have hydrocephalus, Dr. Sahni can help you understand your condition and the best ways to treat it.

Hydrocephalus explained

Water on the brain is close, but it’s not quite accurate. The “water” is actually a clear liquid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF serves three purposes within your cranium:

If something causes this CSF to build up in the open spaces in your brain called ventricles, you have hydrocephalus, a serious condition that affects more than a million people in America

Why do I have hydrocephalus?

The causes of hydrocephalus are varied. And although it is possible to inherit the condition if it runs in your family, that’s rare. Hydrocephalus is more commonly the result of:

Regardless of what’s causing your hydrocephalus, it’s important that we alleviate your symptoms so we can address the underlying reason.

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

Symptoms of hydrocephalus can vary from person to person, but a lot has to do with your stage in life when you get it. Statistically speaking, most cases occur in infants and the elderly, but no one is immune. Age does, however, affect the signs of hydrocephalus.


Because newborns have a soft spot at the top of their head, hydrocephalus can be seen here as a tightening or bulging as the pressure of the fluid builds. The scalp may be stretched thin, allowing you to see the veins underneath. Your baby may also:


Toddlers and young children show some similar signs as babies, including vomiting, nausea, sleepiness, and irritability, but they also have a few additional indicators, such as:

Adolescents and young adults

In addition to the symptoms typical in younger children, older kids and adults may also experience headaches and incontinence, as well as difficulty performing everyday tasks. 


Older folks with hydrocephalus exhibit symptoms that may be mistaken for the normal aging process, such as loss of bladder control, shuffling when they walk, and forgetfulness. Because the signs are similar, an older person (over the age of 60) may be mistakenly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. 

What to do about hydrocephalus

Left untreated, hydrocephalus can cause brain damage, so it’s critical to get expert care immediately. If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the common symptoms mentioned, come see Dr. Sahni right away.

He performs a complete neurological exam that may include ultrasound, CT or CAT scan, or an MRI. If he determines you have hydrocephalus, his treatment recommendations depend on many variables, including the underlying cause and your overall health.

Treatment typically takes one of two courses of action: Dr. Sahni either diverts the CSF to another part of your body by implanting a shunt, or, if the problem is caused by an obstruction like a tumor, he removes the blockage, allowing your body to naturally release the excess CSF.

Can I recover completely from hydrocephalus?

Your prognosis after hydrocephalus depends on how soon it was detected and treated. If brain damage has already occurred, your functionality may still be limited. But if you’re diagnosed early, you may be able to expect complete recovery. 

If you had headaches related to the build-up of pressure, those should subside immediately after the CSF is drained. If you have a shunt inserted to divert the fluid, it’s important to keep in close contact with Dr. Sanhi and let him know if you experience any symptoms that indicate the shunt has become clogged, such as fever, vomiting, and vision problems. 

Many people who get early treatment for their hydrocephalus enjoy a long, healthy, productive life. If you suspect this condition, call us today or request an appointment online to get to the bottom of your symptoms and start treatment soon.

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