One scary thing parents can have to face, is finding out during an ultrasound or shortly after birth that their baby has hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) doesn’t drain correctly through the proper channels in the body. CSF looks very similar to water, but it is essential for protection for the brain and spinal cord. It helps remove materials and wastes from the brain and spinal column. It is filtered out of the body through the blood.
People with Hydrocephalus do not have the necessary action to correctly filter the CSF out of their body. And although it is more common in infancy, other forms of the disease can and do occur later in life.
I have known about hydrocephalus just about my whole life, as my brother Kyle had hydrocephalus when he was a baby. Without proper treatment and checks once treated, hydrocephalus can be dangerous and life threatening. My brother lost his eyesight due to not getting the proper treatment.
The initial treatment for hydrocephalus requires brain surgery. A Neurosurgeon will place a shunt (which is like a pump) in one of the four ventricles in the brain. Ventricles are small openings in the brain. The pump is connected to a tube that is eventually inserted into the stomach, to drain the fluid. It can take a while in infants to get the right speed for the pump. Unlike when my brother was a baby, they now have shunts you can adjust using a magnet, which is much less invasive than prior methods.
Eventually, the shunt and tubing has to be replaced, because it quits working or there isn’t enough tubing anymore once the child is fully grown. There are things parents can do to help detect that their child’s shunt is not working properly. Vomiting is one of the major indications that a child’s shunt is not working well. However, many children do not have this classic feature. When your child cannot communicate their problems well, it can be very difficult to figure out if it is serious or just a minor illness. Make sure you look for patterns in your specific child and when it doubt, get it checked.
Once the child is old enough to communicate there are things you can ask them to know if their shunt is working properly. If the child is having a large amount of headaches, their head feels full without a fever or runny nose, they are nauseated or vomiting with no fever, and several other things.
Ultimately, noticing patterns in your child will be the most helpful.
However, hydrocephalus isn’t diagnosed only in children. It can be diagnosed in adults as well. This diagnosis is usually called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, and is diagnosed with imaging methods such as an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). They can diagnose by looking at the ventricles. People with hydrocephalus have enlarged ventricles. The treatment is the same as when treated as a child.
Often people that get diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus complain of bad headaches, dizziness and vertigo, being light-headed, a feeling of pressure in their head, balance issues and vomiting. These things need to be checked out, and have other possible causes as well.
Hydrocephalus is a lifelong condition, but with the proper care people can live normal lives.
There are several websites out there to help parents of children with and people with hydrocephalus, including: