Hydrocephalus is a condition where there is buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (liquid around the brain and spine) which pushes the skull outward, causing gradual head enlargement. It is sometimes called “water in the brain.” In fact, the term “Hydrocephalus” is derived from the Greek words “hudro” meaning water and “kephalos” meaning head.
Hydrocephalus can occur in both children and adults from all walks of life. It occurs as frequently as Down syndrome; so for every 500 births, one newborn will have the condition. Although most babies may not have it at birth, some will develop it as toddlers or even later in life. This condition may lead to death (fatal brain stem compression – when the fluid compacts the main trunk that holds the brain in its place), this number has dramatically decreased in the past quarter of a century from 54% to 5%!
Identification of Hydrocephalus and immediately consulting a doctor is very important in getting rid of this condition. For aside from being fatal, if this condition is left untreated it may lead to a deformed head, damaged eyesight, or mental disability that will definitely decrease the person’s quality of life.
When the cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the central nervous system (brain and spine), the most prominent sign is the bulging of the soft spot on the baby’s head (the fontanelle) as well as the unusual enlargement of the head. Other Hydrocephalus symptoms in infants include:
• Eyes that gaze downward (Sundowning)
In Older Children
Symptoms may include:
• Facial appearance changes, especially spacing of the eyes
• Crossing of the eyes or having lack of control over eye movements
• Stunted growth (child 0-5 years of age)
• Muscle spasm
• Bladder control loss
• Feeding difficulties
• Loss of coordination or having restricted movements
• Personality or memory changes
• Irritability, temperamental behavior
• Short, shrill, or high pitched cry
In normal individuals the cerebrospinal fluid continuously circulates through the brain, the spaces inside the cranium, and the spinal cord, before it is eventually drained by the circulatory system. However, if the fluid exit is blocked or if there is excess production of fluids, the result is Hydrocephalus. There are almost 200 things that can cause those two things. These include congenital malformations, head injuries, certain infections, and tumors in the head.
It is vital for individuals with Hydrocephalus to have the pressure in their heads reduced before any lasting damages occur. Unfortunately, there is no medicine to accomplish this. Instead, surgery is required to remove the excess fluid or the blockage. Furthermore, in some cases, more than one surgery may be necessary.
Protecting babies and older children from getting head injuries is very important. For example, when cycling or in roller blades, children must always wear their helmets. In addition, treatment of infections especially in pregnant women and babies should not be ignored.
Hydrocephalus can be debilitating or even deadly when left unchecked. When Hydrocephalus symptoms are noticed in loved ones, a doctor’s appointment is needed immediately. Quick action can prevent any permanent damage and help that person live a normal life.
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