Hydrocephalus in Adults: Causes, Treatment & Shunts FAQ

(Updated on July 28 2022)

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This page contains the most popular questions people have on Hydrocephalus in Adults. On this page, you can find all of these popular questions answered in an elaborate manner. You will also finally discover the answers to the unique questions that have been asked but not answered on other media platforms.

Hydrocephalus in adults, also known as Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), is a condition where there’s too much fluid in the ventricles of the brain. This condition can cause normal pressure hydrocephalus to occur and it may result from head trauma, tumor, infection, subarachnoid hemorrhage, or complications of surgery. NPH is common among the elderly but it still can affect adults of any age. [1]

What is the type of hydrocephalus in adults?

The type of hydrocephalus in adults is called Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), which usually affects people over the age of 50. Studies show that NPH is developed after a stroke or injury. Compared to the other two types of this condition, NPH develops slower as a result of the gradual blocking of CSF drainage.

Short Documentary: Living with Hydrocephalus: Emma’s story

When an adult or an elderly suddenly appears to have balance problems, sluggish, or demonstrates reduced mental function, it could be because of hydrocephalus. This condition is common in elderly patients but the exact cause is not known though studies show that it could be a genetic factor. [2]

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus in adults?

The symptoms of hydrocephalus in adults are gait disturbance, dementia, urinary incontinence, personality changes, parkinsonism, and other rare symptoms like headaches and seizures. The most common signs in adults are decreased cognition, such as memory problems like sudden difficulty in remembering something.

Senior patients can suffer from frequent headaches and lethargy on a daily basis. They can also go through a shuffling gait and appear to have reduced balance or coordination. In many cases, the elderly affected with NPH start to suffer from vision impairments. [3]

What is the main cause of hydrocephalus in adults?

The main cause of hydrocephalus in adults is most likely an injury or illness. It could be caused by bleeding inside the brain if blood leaks over the brain’s surface. It could also be caused by the presence of blood clots in the brain, also known as venous thrombosis.

Hydrocephalus in adults can occur due to meningitis, which is an infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It can also occur due to brain tumors and head injury. This condition in adults can be triggered by a stroke.

Senior patients sometimes develop normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) after suffering from a brain injury, infection, or bleeding in the brain. NPH has been found to be connected to underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and even high cholesterol. [4]

How serious is hydrocephalus in adults?

Hydrocephalus in adults can be serious if left untreated. This birth defect can cause complications like intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities if it is not diagnosed and treated promptly. It can also be a life-threatening condition for adults.

This condition can have a profound effect on the lives of adults. Studies show that there have been young adults with hydrocephalus who have had difficulty functioning on a day-to-day basis and some of whom are even unable to work.

This condition can affect an adult’s ability to function at home and work. It can also affect their relationships and employment. [5]

How is hydrocephalus treated in adults?

Hydrocephalus is treated in adults with surgery treatment carried out by a medical professional team of neurologists, physical therapists, neurosurgeons, and speech therapists. The type of surgery treatment required for this condition depends on the age of the adult patient with this birth defect.

For elderly or senior patients with hydrocephalus, they have to be first admitted to the hospital to be tested for their gait and cognitive function. For patients being considered for shunting, a lumbar drain trial will be performed by a team of medical professionals. After placing the lumbar spinal drain, spinal drainage will be performed for a few days.

If with the lumbar spinal drain, elderly patients show signs of improvement, a ventriculoperitoneal shunt will most likely be placed as the next step. If the lumbar spinal drain is not successful, a permanent shunting procedure will then not be the next solution. Doctors will advise other treatments to manage this condition.

Other treatments to treat this condition in adults consist of prescribed medication to reduce spinal fluid production to prevent the symptoms from worsening. [6] 

What is the hydrocephalus survival rate in adults?

The hydrocephalus survival rate in adults is dependent on the patient’s symptoms, timeliness of diagnosis, and the effectiveness of the treatment. Hydrocephalus is one such condition that can be severe and even fatal if left untreated.

Reports show that the survival rate in adults with untreated hydrocephalus is low. It has been discovered that almost 50% of affected patients die before they are three years old and about 80% of patients die before adulthood.

For hydrocephalus cases that are not associated with tumors, it has been discovered that the survival rate is up to 95% with treatment.

The survival rate for patients with this condition can be improved if it is diagnosed early and treated promptly. Studies show that the longer the symptoms of hydrocephalus persist, the more difficult and complicated it becomes to treat. [7]

How long does a shunt last in adults?

A shunt in adults can last for 6 years. Though medical practitioners say it is difficult to predict how long a shunt can last, studies show that all shunts either need to be revised or replaced after a period of 6 years.

A ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt is placed inside one of the brain’s ventricles to divert fluid away and restore CSF’s normal flow and absorption. The entire procedure for this surgical treatment takes more or less than 90 minutes.

A VP shunt requires regular monitoring and follow-up to ensure complications are taken care of if they occur. Sometimes mechanical failure, obstructions, or infections can lead to a VP shunt malfunction which can then cause serious complications if it is not discovered sooner.

Patients should seek immediate medical attention if they experience symptoms of a VP shunt malfunction. [8]

Can you live a normal life with a shunt?

You can live a normal life with a shunt as studies show there are many patients, especially those with normal pressure hydrocephalus, who are able to live a normal life. For patients with a shunt, medical practitioners advise having regular and ongoing checkups with their neurosurgeons to ensure their shunt is working properly.

Patients with normal pressure hydrocephalus require long-term follow-up care which is why it is important to have regular check-ups to monitor the progress and also to test for any changes or symptoms that may indicate a malfunction. [9]

What can’t you do with a shunt?

You can’t do quite a few things with a shunt, especially just after shunt surgery. After shunt surgery, you have to be more careful about not doing things where you can get hit in the head even if accidentally. For most cases of shunt surgery, working patients are able to get back to work after a week’s rest.

The recovery process after shunt surgery requires the patient to be very careful moving forward. It is important to not let the body remain tired and to just take nap if you are feeling tired. It is important to get enough sleep so the body and brain can recover.

After the recovery period is over, you will be able to live life as normal as possible. There is no specific diet to follow, patients are encouraged to eat what they like as long as it doesn’t cause any stomach upset. Every patient adapts in a different way so do speak to your doctor if you are having difficulty adapting. [10]

These are the most popular questions on Hydrocephalus in Adults that have been recently asked online. If something is missing here or any questions you may have about this condition in the brain affecting adults, do not hesitate to contact us.

New References

  1. Hydrocephalus in Adults. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hydrocephalus
  2. 5 signs of hydrocephalus in adults. 5 Signs of Hydrocephalus in Adults: Michigan Neurology Associates & PC: Neurologists. (n.d.). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.michiganneurologyassociates.com/blog/5-signs-of-hydrocephalus-in-adults
  3. Normal pressure hydrocephalus. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2019, November 19). Retrieved July 26, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hydrocephalus/normal-pressure-hydrocephalus
  4. NHS. (n.d.). Hydrocephalus that develops in children and adults. NHS choices. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hydrocephalus/causes
  5. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, September 3). Hydrocephalus. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hydrocephalus/symptoms-causes/syc-2037360.
  6. Hydrocephalus in adults. Department of Neurosurgery. (2022, April 18). Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.med.unc.edu/neurosurgery/services/hydrocephalus/adults/
  7. Divya Jacob, P. D. (2020, October 27). What is the survival rate of hydrocephalus? MedicineNet. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.medicinenet.com/what_is_the_survival_rate_of_hydrocephalus/article.htm
  8. Roth, E. (2017, October 11). Ventriculoperitoneal Shunt: Procedure, recovery, and risks. Healthline. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/ventriculoperitoneal-shunt#outlook
  9. Medtronic. (n.d.). Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) and life with a Shunt. Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH) and Life with a Shunt. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.medtronic.com/us-en/patients/treatments-therapies/hydrocephalus-shunt-normal-pressure/living-with.html.
  10. Ventriculoperitoneal shunt surgery: What to expect at home. MyHealth.Alberta.ca Government of Alberta Personal Health Portal. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=zy1684.

Old References

1. Zhang J, William MA, Rigamonti D. Genetics of human hydrocephalus. J Neurol 2006; 253(10):1255-66.
2. Shprecher D, Schwalb J, Kurlan R. Normal pressure hydrocephalus: diagnosis and treatment. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep 2008;8(5):371-6.
3. Nelson SNJr. Hydrocephalus [Internet]. [Last updated 2013 Aug 5; cited 2013 Aug 19]. Available from:
4. Kiefer M, Unterberg A. The differential diagnosis and treatment of normal-pressure hydrocephalus. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2012;109(1-2):15-26.
5. Williams MA, Wilson RK. Evidence that congenital hydrocephalus is a precursor to idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus in only a subset of patients. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2007;78(5):508-11.

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