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What Is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is an abnormal build-up of fluid in the brain that puts pressure on the brain. It can cause an unusually large head, headaches, balance and coordination problems, and poor vision. Hydrocephalus can occur at any age, but it most often develops in infants and older adults.

Fluid in the brain, called cerebrospinal fluid, circulates throughout channels (ventricles) to cushion the brain. The fluid also provides nutrients and removes waste. Hydrocephalus occurs when blockages keep it from flowing or old fluid doesn't get absorbed the way it should.


There are different types of hydrocephalus, with different causes:

  • Acquired — Caused by a tumor, a serious head injury or brain infection
  • Congenital — Caused by genetic problems or a birth defect that occur during a baby's development 
  • Communicating — Fluid flows in the brain but gets blocked when it leaves the ventricles
  • Non-communicating — When there is a blockage between ventricles
  • Normal pressure — Most common in older adults and may be caused by stroke, injury, surgery or a hemorrhage
  • Ex-vacuo — Can occur after stroke, an injury or with a degenerative disease such as Alzheimer's, and causes the brain tissue to shrink


Symptoms Experienced By Children

Symptoms of hydrocephalus vary with age. For infants and children, symptoms can include:

  • Unusually large head
  • Firm or bulging soft spot on the top of baby's head 
  • Developmental delays
  • Crankiness
  • Poor appetite
  • Sleepiness or low energy
  • Poor or blurry vision
  • Balance or coordination problems
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/vomiting

Symptoms Experienced By Adults

Symptoms in adults may include:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Poor balance, coordination or problems with walking
  • Frequent urination or loss of bladder control
  • Vision changes
  • Memory loss
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Personality changes

Treatment Options

Hydrocephalus has no cure, but treatment can reduce symptoms. Treatment options involve surgery and may use:

  • Shunt — A flexible plastic tube placed in the brain to redirect cerebrospinal fluid to another part of the body. For example, in the abdomen where it’s absorbed.
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) — A minimally invasive procedure that creates a tiny hole in the bottom of one of the ventricles. This is so excess fluid can flow out of the brain.
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy with choroid plexus cauterization (ETV/CPC) — Combines ETV with a procedure that uses an electrical current through a tiny wire to cauterize (burn) tissue (choroid plexus) that produces spinal fluid. As a result, less fluid is made.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of hydrocephalus, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat hydrocephalus.