What is Hydrocephalus?
Hydrocephalus is the buildup of fluid in the cavities (ventricles) deep within the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the ventricles and puts pressure on the brain.
Cerebrospinal fluid normally flows through the ventricles and bathes the brain and spinal column. But the pressure of too much cerebrospinal fluid associated with hydrocephalus can damage brain tissues 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. Surgical treatment for hydrocephalus can restore and maintain normal cerebrospinal fluid levels in the brain. Many different therapies are often required to manage symptoms or functional impairments resulting from hydrocephalus.
When Surgery Is Necessary?
Hydrocephalus can be treated in a variety of ways. The problem area may be treated directly (by removing the cause of CSF obstruction), or indirectly (by diverting the fluid to somewhere else; typically to another body cavity). Indirect treatment is performed by implanting a device known as a shunt to divert the excess CSF away from the brain. The body cavity in which the CSF is diverted is usually the peritoneal cavity (the area surrounding the abdominal organs).
In some cases, two procedures are performed, one to divert the CSF, and another at a later stage to remove the cause of obstruction (e.g., a brain tumor). Once inserted, the shunt system usually remains in place for the duration of a patient’s life (although additional operations to revise the shunt system are sometimes needed). The shunt system continuously performs its function of diverting the CSF away from the brain, thereby keeping the intracranial pressure within normal limits.
An alternative operation called endoscopic third ventriculostomy utilizes a tiny camera (endoscope) to look inside the ventricles, allowing the surgeon to create a new pathway through which CSF can flow.
Your neurological function will be evaluated post surgery. If any neurological problems persist, rehabilitation may be required to further your improvement. However, recovery may be limited by the extent of the damage already caused by the hydrocephalus and by your brain’s ability to heal.
Because hydrocephalus is an ongoing condition, long-term follow-up by a doctor is required. Follow-up diagnostic tests including CT scans, MRIs and x-rays, are helpful in determining if the shunt is working properly. Do not hesitate to contact your physician if you experience any of the following postoperative symptoms:
- Redness, tenderness, pain or swelling of the skin along the length of the tube or incision
- Irritability or drowsiness
- Nausea, vomiting, headache or double vision
- Abdominal pain
- Return of preoperative neurological symptoms