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Hydrocephalus is defined as an excessive accumulation of fluid in the ventricles of the brain. As you can imagine, any type of pressure build in the brain can cause a number of potentially devastating consequences and hydrocephalus is no exception. Some of the more prominent symptoms of hydrocephalus include rapid-onset dementia, difficulties with walking and visual disturbances. Why this happens and what the treatment options are for children and adults is what I will focus on in this response. 

In children, the most likely cause of hydrocephalus is due to a congenital problem that develops from birth. Children will typically be born with very large heads, have large anterior fontanelles, eyes that deviate downwards and issues with muscular tone. If a diagnosis is missed before the fontanelles naturally close, it can be quite dramatic for the quality of life of the young patient. Cohort studies indicate that these patients will likely have reduced mental capacity, will have issues with growth hormone so they can either have very short or very tall stature, diabetes, and muscle spasticity. [1]

This type of hydrocephalus is considered to be the more severe type of the disease and carries a worse prognosis for the patients compared to adult-onset hydrocephalus. About 3 percent of cases of pediatric hydrocephalus are fatal, but if patients suffer long enough to have surgeries to help reduce the flow of fluid into the brain ventricles, their prognosis is much more promising. Even if a pressure in the brain is reduced, there is no guarantee that children will be symptom-free from this condition. Problems in school and learning disabilities affect approximately 50 percent of patients even after therapy. Another worry is the possibility of epilepsy, which is a disease marked by chronic seizures and can be seen in about 30 percent of cases. [2]

In adults, the symptoms of hydrocephalus may be more managable but they could also be caused by a number of more complicated conditions to deal with like intracranial tumors, calcifications of the ventricles or increased pressure secondary to strokes or other hemorrhagic events in the brain. These conditions, in turn, make it slightly more difficult to manage because physicians need to address potential underlying causes if they hope to relieve the patient of this increased intraventricular pressure. Surgeries to remove blood or tumors in the brain can be considered if the patient is in a stable enough condition and then surgical shunts will be inserted into the ventricles in the brain to help the flow of cranial fluid pass freely through the ventricles. 

If this treatment is done in a timely manner, the adult patient will be able to notice dramatic improvement seemingly overnight. This issue with this condition is that it closely mimics presentation of more common diseases like Alzheimer's Disease and doctors may not go the extra step to make sure that hydrocephalus has been ruled out. If you notice that your loved one is suffering from, not just memory loss, but balance and visual defects as well, encourage your doctor to test for hydrocephalus with a simple CT examination. This is a treatment that is believed to be effective in up to 93 percent of patients and can significantly improve the quality of life in these older patients. [3]

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