Posted On: December 14, 2010 by Anapol Schwartz

The Symptoms of Water on the Brain in Older Adults

“Water on the brain,” which is referred to as hydrocephalus in the medical community, is an irregular buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of a person’s brain. Often, the CSF is under increased pressure, which can compress and damage a person’s brain. It is a condition that is very serious and oftentimes fatal. It can occur before birth or at any time after. It can be caused by a birth defect, brain hemorrhage, infection, tumor, meningitis, or a head injury.

“Hydrocephalus ex-vacuo” is a condition in which there is brain damage caused by injury or a stroke. In these cases there is actual brain substance shrinkage, but the CSF pressure is normal. Another variation of water on the brain is “normal pressure hydrocephalus” (NPH), which occurs because of a gradual blockage of CSF pathways to drainage in a person’s brain. The brain’s ventricles enlarge, but the CSF pressure stays within a normal range. Common symptoms of NPH are difficulty walking, poor bladder control, significant memory loss, and dementia.

Other symptoms of water on the brain in older adults include:

  • Vomiting;

  • Slow growth;

  • Significant loss in coordination;

  • Significant changes in personality;

  • Significant changes in eye spacing and facial appearance;

  • Muscle spasms;

  • Inability to control eye movements;

  • Fatigue;

  • Crossed eyes;

  • Blurred vision; and

  • An inability to think or reason.

Additionally, approximately one out of every four people diagnosed with water on the brain develops epilepsy.

Treatment for hydrocephalus is surgical. The operation involves inserting a shunt into the brain to allow the extra CSF an exit path and relieves the CSF pressure on a person’s brain. The shunt directs the excess CSF into another area of a person’s body where it is then absorbed into their bloodstream.

There are many complications associated with the procedure, including failure of the shunt, shunt malfunction, and infection. Shunts may stop working if it becomes blocked or infected, or if it is outgrown. There is also a chance it may become disconnected. If any of these occur, the CSF will begin to accumulate once more and the symptoms of water on the brain will occur again. The brain hydrocephalus shunt failure rate is high—about 40,000 shunt surgeries are performed every year to treat water on the brain and a mere 30 percent are the first surgery for a patient. It is very common for a person who suffers from hydrocephalus to require multiple shunt revision surgeries in their lifetime.

The outlook for adults diagnosed with hydrocephalus depends on the cause of the condition, the timing of the diagnosis and its treatment. Often, children that are diagnosed with water on the brain are able to live relatively normal lives with few limitations. However, if symptoms of water on the brain are left unchecked, it can cause life-long damage to a person’s brain, and even be fatal. If you believe that a physician’s failure to diagnose or error has caused you to suffer from hydrocephalus, a Harrisburg, PA medical malpractice lawyer can help you hold negligent medical professionals liable.