A condition where an excessive amount of cerebrospinal fluid accumulates within the skull, hydrocephalus was, in older times, referred to as “water on the brain.” A clear fluid that surrounds and protects both the brain and spinal cord from impacts and jarring, cerebrospinal fluid also acts as a transporter of nutrients down the spinal cord and well as a remove of waste and regulator of pressure on the brain—too much pressure, as in those suffering from hydrocephalus, can lead to permanent brain damage and death.

The obstructive or non-communicating form of hydrocephalus can occur at any age. With this condition, cerebrospinal fluid is blocked from moving between ventricles in the brain due to a head injury, stroke, hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) or infection or tumor in the brain or spinal cord.

Depending on the amount of fluid accumulating and the degree of pressure being exerted on the brain, symptoms of obstructive hydrocephalus can include changes in mood, especially sudden irritability; nausea and vomiting; headaches; and seizures. Patients may also have mild to severe cognitive deficiencies and memory problems, changes in vision and coordination and balance issues.

A physician who suspects that a condition of obstructive hydrocephalus exists will review a patient’s medical history and conduct physical and neurological tests that will look at brain function as it relates to thinking, mobility etc. A lumbar puncture to collect and test cerebrospinal fluid pressure may also be performed.

Once it appears, obstructive hydrocephalus can quickly worsen and lead to death if not treated. Surgeries are the most common treatments and will seek to relieve any pressure on the brain being caused by the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid. This is accomplished by removing any obstruction causing a blockage or using a shunt to allow fluid to flow away from the brain and into a part of the body where it will be safely absorbed. Also, a surgeon may make a small hole in the bottom of a ventricle and create a new path for fluid to drain away.