Normal pressure hydrocephalus is a disorder that occurs within the brain, as the brain’s ventricle fills with cerebrospinal fluid. This produces issues with reasoning, thinking, walking, and bladder control. Help is available for this condition which is why it’s important to recognize warning signs and symptoms.
What is Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus?
As mentioned, this condition develops when fluid accumulates in the brain’s ventricles. These are simply hollow chambers that fill with fluid. Its name stems from the fact that although excess fluid is present, cerebrospinal fluid pressure tends to be displayed as normal when measured via a spinal tap.
Now, cerebrospinal fluid is normal and is what protects the brain and spinal cord while supplying nutrients. Normally, it circulates throughout the brain and any excess fluid drains away, where it’s absorbed by veins at the top of the brain. In normal pressure hydrocephalus, the fluid no longer drains properly.
As ventricles fill and become enlarged, they start to damage brain tissue and disrupt normal functioning. In turn, symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus develop. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure why, this condition typically affects people in their 60s or 70s.
Symptoms of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
The symptoms of normal pressure hydrocephalus are also common in other brain disorders. The parts of the brain most commonly affected are those that control the bladder, cognition, and movement. Issues with walking are similar to Parkinson’s while dementia symptoms are more closely linked to symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Be aware of the following key symptoms so that you can seek medical assistance as quickly as possible:
- Struggling to Walk: Many describe this symptom as someone trying to walk on a boat. It can appear as though their feet are stuck to the floor or individuals freeze while they’re walking. Being unsteady and experiencing leg weakness are also common.
- Decline in Cognition: Various skills and abilities are affected included decision-making, reasoning, judgment. Individuals also often experience apathy, changes in mood or personality, and speech problems.
- Bladder Complications: As this condition progresses, individuals experience an inability to hold urine or stool, they urinate more frequently and feel as though they need to urinate often.
Causes of Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus
Although researchers are still focusing on the cases associated with normal pressure hydrocephalus, it’s believed that head injuries, bleeding around the brain, meningitis, infection, inflammation, stroke, or brain tumors may contribute to the development of this condition.
It can also happen after enduring surgery. With that being said, how these factors lead to normal pressure hydrocephalus isn’t fully understood. Within most diagnosed patients, the true cause is never known.
When treating normal pressure hydrocephalus, researchers have yet to discover treatment options that are nonsurgical. While focusing on drugs that help flush excess fluid from the body have not been effective. When normal pressure hydrocephalus is treated, surgery is required.
A long thin tube is inserted into the patient, draining fluid from the brain to the abdomen. After surgery is successfully completed, individuals often experience improvements in terms of mobility. In most cases, changes that occur in bladder control and thinking do not often improve.
There have been limited clinical trials conducted regarding the effectiveness of this method. Data suggests that symptoms related to walking can improve, however, other findings report post-surgery complications. More needs to be understood and personal treatment options should be discussed specifically with your doctor.
The Relationship Between Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus and Alzheimer’s
It’s believed that nearly a quarter million Americans who have been diagnosed with dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s may actually suffer from normal pressure hydrocephalus. Since the symptoms are so similar, it can be tough to tell the difference.
Unlike Alzheimer’s where symptoms of confusion and memory loss typically surface early on, these symptoms do not generally appear until later on when dealing with normal pressure hydrocephalus. Although symptoms can overlap with dementia-related conditions, specific issues with walking and urinary problems are major red flags regarding normal pressure hydrocephalus.
Perhaps the key difference between Alzheimer’s and normal pressure hydrocephalus is that treatment is available in some cases. It’s possible to treat normal pressure hydrocephalus whereas no cure has been developed for Alzheimer’s. Successful surgery for normal pressure hydrocephalus varies from individual to individual.
Lava, Neil. (2014). What Is Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus? WebMD. Retrieved from