Coming from the greek words meaning “water” and “head”, hydrocephalus is commonly referred to as “water on the brain”.

The brain contains fluid filled spaces and is constantly replenishing this fluid (in fact the brain completely replenishes the fluid three times every 24 hours). It does this by secreting fluid in the fluid spaces (ventricles) and then reabsorbing the fluid around the surface of the brain in small structures called arachnoid villi.


There are a number of different causes of hydrocephalus including but not limited to:

  • Congenital (this means you are born with the problem) 
  • Aqueduct stenosis (a blockage of a small tube within the brain)
  • Spina bifida
  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Tumour

The most common cause in adults is a condition called normal pressure hydrocephalus. This is where the fluid is not reabsorbed as well by the arachnoid villi.


Hydrocephalus can be associated with severe headache and coma, however in adults this is uncommon and the common symptoms are a triad of:

  1. Difficulty walking
  2. Urinary urgency or incontinence
  3. Memory problems


Treatments for hydrocephalus include:

  • Insertion of a tube regulated by a valve to drain fluid from the brain to somewhere else in the body eg the abdominal cavity – this is called a ventriculoperitoneal shunt.
  • Creation of an accessory pathway for blocked fluid flow at the aqueduct – called endoscopic third ventriculostomy.

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