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Hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell. The name means “water on the brain.”
Brain damage can occur as a result of the fluid buildup. This can lead to developmental, physical, and intellectual impairments. It requires treatment to prevent serious complications.

Hydrocephalus is a build-up of fluid on the brain. The excess fluid puts pressure on the brain, which can damage it.

The damage to the brain can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • headache
  • being sick
  • blurred vision
  • difficulty walking

Congenital hydrocephalus

Babies born with hydrocephalus (congenital) often have distinctive physical characteristics. Physical signs in a baby include:

  • an unusually large head
  • their scalp may be thin and shiny with easily visible veins
  • a bulging or tense fontanelle (the soft spot on the top of their head)
  • their eyes may appear to be looking down; this is known as the ‘setting-sun sign’ because the eyes resemble the sun setting below the horizon
  • the muscles in your baby’s lower limbs may appear stiff and be prone to muscle spasms
  • poor feeding
  • irritability
  • being sick
  • drowsiness

Acquired hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus that develops in adults or children (acquired) can cause headaches. The headache may be worse in the morning after waking up because the fluid in your brain doesn't drain so well while you're lying down and may have built up overnight.
Other symptoms of acquired hydrocephalus include:

  • neck pain
  • feeling sick
  • being sick (which may be worse in the morning)
  • drowsiness, which can progress to a coma
  • changes in your mental state, such as confusion
  • blurred vision or double vision
  • difficulty walking
  • not being able to control your bladder (urinary incontinence) and, in some cases, your bowel

Urinary symptoms

The change in the way that you walk is often followed by bouts of urinary incontinence, which may include symptoms such as:

  • a frequent need to urinate
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • loss of bladder control

Treatment Options

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