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(Water on the Brain)


Hydrocephalus is too much cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. This clear fluid surrounds both the spinal cord and the brain. Too much of this fluid puts pressure on the brain.
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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


A person can be born with this problem or get it after an injury or illness.
Hydrocephalus can be caused by:
  • The brain being unable to absorb fluid due to things like bleeding or infection
  • A blockage that stops fluid from draining, such as tumors, injuries, and cysts
  • The body making too much fluid

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the chance of this problem are:
  • Adults who have:
    • Tumors
    • Brain infections or bleeding
    • Brain injuries
  • Infants who:
    • Are born very early
    • Have neural tube defects
    • Have bleeding in the brain
    • Have brain cysts
    • Are born to mothers who had infections during pregnancy, such as mumps


Symptoms may be mild at first and then get worse as pressure on the brain increases.
Symptoms in adults may be:
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Eyesight problems, such as double vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Problems walking
  • Confusion
  • Problems with urine control
  • Memory problems
  • Tremors
  • Problems swallowing
Symptoms in infants may be:
  • Feeding problems
  • Slow development
  • Fussiness
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing that stops briefly during sleep
  • Lack of alertness


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:
A lumbar puncture may be done in adults to test CSF.


Treatment options are:
  • Medicine to stop the body from making too much CSF and to ease swelling
  • Placing a shunt to let the excess fluid drain into another place in the body, often the belly
  • Making a hole in the brain to allow CSF to flow out of
  • Removing anything that is blocking CSF flow, such as a tumor


There are no current guidelines to prevent hydrocephalus in adults. Getting regular prenatal care may help prevent it in infants.


National Hydrocephalus Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Health Canada
Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus Association of Canada


Hydrocephalus in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated April 28, 2017. Accessed October 16, 2019.
Hydrocephalus in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated April 28, 2017. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Hydrocephalus fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: Accessed October 2, 2017.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2018
  • Update Date: 08/26/2020
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