Hydrocephalus- Causes and Prevention
Hydrocephalus is very common in our world today.
In 2004 dailymail published a story about Roona Begum- a three-year old hydrocephalus patient. After three years of intense pain, Baby Roona, as reported by dailymail, smiled for the first time following a successful surgery.
On the 6th of September 2014, Ndubuisi Nwachukwu Ibiam (Baby Miracle) died in his mother’s arms.
Baby Miracle struggled with congenital hydrocephalus for 2 years and 3 months and when all efforts to save him failed he gave up the ghost.
It was awfully sad.
This is just two out of many registered cases of hydrocephalus. While some have survived it and lived a normal and happy life afterwards, others have not been favoured with such luck.
Hydrocephalus is a condition common among infants and the aged. It is derived from two Greek words; Hydro (water) and Cephalus (head) which literary translates to water on the head.
This condition arises from excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain leading to increased head pressure.
Types of Hydrocephalus
There are basically two types of hydrocephalus:
- Congenital hydrocephalus
- Acquired hydrocephalus
Congenital hydrocephalus as the name implies is when a child develops the condition in the womb and is born with it. This could be as a result of genetic defects, neural tube defects including spina bifida or certain infections during pregnancy.
Acquired hydrocephalus on the other hand occurs during delivery or much later in the child’s life and it is as a result of complications following premature delivery (especially bleeding in the brain), brain tumour, severe head injuries, and infections of the brain and spinal cord. This type affects children, adults and older people.
Symptoms of Hydrocephalus
The early detection of hydrocephalus is necessary for the immediate commencement of treatment. The symptoms vary according to the age of a patient.
In congenital hydrocephalus, there’s a significant increase in head size with visible swollen veins. This is so because the head of the infant have not yet strengthened and so would continue to expand to enable it accommodate the excess CSF. Other symptoms are drowsiness, elevated temperature, irritability, problem with breathing, convulsion, frequent vomiting and peripheral vision loss.
For older children and the aged:
- Because the skull has hardened at this stage, the patient would not experience any abnormal increase in head size but a severe, throbbing headache.
- The patient would have difficulties walking, talking and eating without assistance.
- The patient may experience memory loss
- Hazy vision which may affect both eyes
- Bladder control becomes difficult
- and strabismus
- The person may also experience nausea, excessive sleepiness, seizure and vomiting.
How Does Hydrocephalus Develop?
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a colourless liquid produced mainly in the choroidplexus and stored in the ventricles of the brain. This liquid normally surrounds the brain and the spinal cord and protects them from injuries. It also supplies them with nutrients and serves the function of removing waste products through the blood stream.
In a day, the brain produces approximately 500ml of this liquid but not all of this quantity is left in the brain. It is continuously reabsorbed until only about 100-160ml is left at a time.
If a situation arises where any of the four ventricles are blocked or an unwanted amount of CSF could not be drained away from the brain, the liquid would continue to accumulate and eventually lead to hydrocephalus.
Though congenital hydrocephalus cannot be entirely avoided but certain actions could be taken in advance, especially by expectant mothers to reduce the risk of their foetus developing this condition.
- Maintain a proper hygiene and eat healthy while pregnant: Eat lots of fruits and vegetable. Okra and other vegetables have been found to contain folate which is necessary to prevent neural tube defects– a medical condition which could also predispose a child in the womb to congenital hydrocephalus. Always ensure that the fruits and vegetables are properly washed.
- Guard yourself and your baby against head injuries: Be safety conscious and make sure your baby is not in any position where he or she could fall accidentally and crash his or her head.
- Infectious diseases like chickenpox and meningitis could increase a child’s risk of hydrocephalus. Always ensure your baby gets all the recommended vaccines.
- Premature labour and certain infections during pregnancy: This could predispose a foetus to hydrocephalus. This is why you should take prenatal care seriously. Always check up with your doctor to know how your pregnancy is coming on and make sure you promptly report any funny feeling to him for immediate medical investigation.
- Quit smoking and consume less of alcohol during pregnancy. Exercise as often as you can but make sure you confirm with your doctor on the exercise routine best for you.
The prompt treatment of hydrocephalus is needed to avert complications and deaths. A child treated of hydrocephalus on time could go on living a normal life with fewer limitations.
Treatment usually involves surgically inserting a shunt in the brain to drain the excess CSF.
Antibiotics may also be administered if the need arises but quickly see a doctor when your child shows the aforementioned symptoms of this medical condition.