Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Elizabeth from Centreville, VA. Elizabeth Wonders, “How many people have hydrocephalus?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Elizabeth!
Isn't the human body amazing? It's made up of so many parts: bones, muscles, the heart, the lungs, the brain, and more! All these parts are unique, yet they work together to allow you to think, communicate, learn, move, and do all sorts of fantastic things.
In addition to the solid things inside your body, there are also a variety of liquids that are essential to life. Can you think of one? If you're like most kids, you probably think of that red liquid your heart pumps through your body: blood!
There's another liquid that's critical for the health of your central nervous system. It's a clear fluid called cerebrospinal fluid or CSF. CSF surrounds and protects the brain and the spinal cord.
When the brain works like it's supposed to, it produces about one pint of CSF each day. CSF flows through narrow passages and cavities called ventricles until it fills the skull and spine. It eventually gets recycled into the bloodstream as more CSF is produced.
Sometimes, though, things go awry. For example, ventricles can get blocked or the recycling process can get interrupted. When these things happen, CSF can't drain properly from the brain.
When this occurs, CSF pools in the brain and builds up inside the skull, causing a brain condition called hydrocephalus. You might hear hydrocephalus referred to as "water on the brain," which is misleading since it's CSF — not water — that builds up inside the skull.
Babies and young children whose skull bones haven't yet fused together experience swelling of the head to make room for the extra fluid. Older kids and adults get excruciating headaches as a result of the increased pressure inside the skull.
Left untreated, hydrocephalus can cause brain damage, mental and physical disabilities, and even death. Many people can recover successfully, however, if their condition is diagnosed early and treated properly.
There are two main types of hydrocephalus: congenital and acquired. Congenital means you were born with the condition. About one out of every 500 babies in America is born with hydrocephalus.
Acquired hydrocephalus occurs after birth and can happen to people of any age. Acquired hydrocephalus can be caused by many different things, including traumatic head injuries, tumors, and infections that cause bleeding in the brain.
When diagnosed, it's important that hydrocephalus is treated promptly. Endoscopic surgery and shunt procedures can be used to drain fluid and create new pathways for it to be reabsorbed into the bloodstream.