What Are Hydrocephalus and Its Symptoms?

Q:
What are hydrocephalus and its symptoms?

A:
The term hydrocephalus is derived from the Greek words “hydro” meaning water and “cephalus” meaning head. So it is a condition in which the primary characteristic is excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. The excessive accumulation of fluids results in an abnormal widening of spaces in the brain called ventricles. This widening creates potentially harmful pressure on the tissues of the brain and cause a range of impairments in brain function.¬†Hydrocephalus can happen at any age, but it occurs more frequently among infants and adults 60 and over.

The signs and symptoms may vary somewhat by age of onset.

Infants

Changes in the head, including:

  • A rapid increase in the size of the head
  • An unusually large head
  • A bulging or tense soft spot (fontanel) on the top of the head

Physical signs and symptoms

  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Irritability
  • Poor growth
  • Poor feeding
  • Eyes fixed downward (sunsetting of the eyes)
  • Deficits in muscle tone and strength
  • Poor responsiveness to touch
Toddlers and older children

Physical signs and symptoms

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Headache
  • Seizures
  • Eyes fixed downward (sunsetting of eyes)
  • Abnormal enlargement of a toddler’s head
  • Sleepiness or lethargy
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unstable balance
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor appetite
  • Urinary incontinence

Behavioral and cognitive changes

  • Irritability
  • Change in personality
  • Decline in school performance
  • Delays or problems with previously acquired skills, such as walking or talking

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