Hydrocephalus is a condition that’s also known as water on the brain. While it's often thought of as a disease that only affects infants, hydrocephalus can also occur in older children and adults, particularly older adults.
In this condition, the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounding the spinal cord and brain accumulates and puts pressure on the tissues, which can damage and impair the brain’s function.
This can happen if too much CSF is produced, if the flow is blocked, or if the fluid is not absorbed.
Sometimes hydrocephalus is congenital. In other cases it is acquired when the cause of the CSF build-up occurs after birth. These occurrences can happen at any stage of life, including adulthood for a variety of reasons.
For example, lesions or tumors that appear in the brain and spinal cord may contribute to water on the brain in adults.
In the case of brain injury, the traumatic injury or bleeding in the brain may increase the risk of developing hydrocephalus.
Other factors that may lead to adult hydrocephalus are infections such as bacterial meningitis and mumps.
Normal pressure hydrocephalus can also occur in adults. In this condition, the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid increases, but the pressure level stays normal. However, this can still cause damage in the brain.
As happens with the other type of hydrocephalus, normal pressure hydrocephalus can occur after an infection of the central nervous system, a head injury, brain surgery or a ruptured aneurysm.
Bleeding in the brain may contribute to normal pressure hydrocephalus. This can be caused by a ruptured aneurysm. This condition can strike some patients after a craniotomy.
When adults have water on the brain, vision problems, headaches and trouble staying awake may arise.
Patients may have balance and coordination problems. Cognitive difficulties such as having trouble thinking, concentrating and remembering can emerge.
Young and middle-aged adults with hydrocephalus may also experience the urge to urinate often or they may experience loss of bladder control.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of water on the brain in patients aged 60 years or older can be different from those in children.
The elderly may show symptoms that include loss of memory or bladder control, as well as coordination difficulties. Patients may move more slowly than normal.
Difficulty walking and a decrease in reasoning and thinking skills are also symptoms of hydrocephalus.
Reviewed December 30, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
Updated August 11, 2016
MayoClinic.com. Hydrocephalus. Web. 29 December 2011.
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Hydrocephalus. Web. 29 December 2011.
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Web. 29 December 2011.