(Water on the Brain)
How to Say It: Hi-dro-sef-uh-liss
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Hydrocephalus is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. This fluid surrounds the spinal cord and the brain. Too much of this fluid puts pressure on the brain.
A person can be born with this problem or get it after an injury or illness.
Hydrocephalus can be caused by:
Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:
Symptoms may be mild at first and then get worse as pressure on the brain increases.
Problems in adults may be:
Problems in babies may be:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Images of the brain may be taken. This can be done with:
CSF may be tested in adults. This can be done with a lumbar puncture.
The goal of treatment is to ease pressure on the brain. Choices are:
There are no current guidelines to prevent this problem in adults. Getting regular prenatal care may help prevent it in infants.
National Hydrocephalus Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Canada
Hamilton MG. Treatment of hydrocephalus in adults. Semin Pediatr Neurol. 2009 Mar;16(1):34-41.
Hydrocephalus in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hydrocephalus-in-adults. Accessed January 25, 2021.
Hydrocephalus in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hydrocephalus-in-children. Accessed January 25, 2021.
Hydrocephalus fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
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Accessed January 25, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 1/25/2021