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Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

Symptoms of hydrocephalus will differ depending on the patient's age.  In infants, symptoms of hydrocephalus include:

  • Irritability
  • Poor head control
  • Poor feeding
  • A bulging "soft spot" at the top of the head

Because the bones of the infant skull are growing and can expand to accommodate increased amounts of CSF, those with hydrocephalus typically have an increase in the circumference measurement of the head.  

In older children and adults, symptoms of hydrocephalus include:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Problems with vision, balance, and walking
  • A downward gaze, called "sunsetting of the eyes"

In older adults, symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus include:

  • Problems walking
  • Urinary continence
  • Dementia

It’s important to have any child with neurological symptoms evaluated as soon as possible by a pediatrician, who may refer the child to a neurosurgeon for further evaluation and a treatment plan. Adults with neurological symptoms should see their primary care physician for a complete physical examination, including a basic neurological exam (see Diagnosing and Treating Hydrocephalus).

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Greenfield, Ph.D., M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: August 2018