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Johns Hopkins Health - Just Old Age – or Brain Fluid Buildup?

Spring 2011
Issue No. 12

Just Old Age – or Brain Fluid Buildup?

Date: April 21, 2011

black woman with black kid

Sure, poor balance, forgetfulness and trouble with vision and hearing can all come with advancing age. But sometimes symptoms like these can mask a condition called hydrocephalus—aka fluid on the brain. Although the disorder can occasionally be secondary to head trauma, brain infections or bleeding in the brain, often there is no identifiable cause. So it’s not surprising that older adults suffering with the condition can be easily misdiagnosed, says Johns Hopkins neurologist Abhay Moghekar, M.D.

Key signs of hydrocephalus—trouble with balance, motor control, memory and urinary continence—can mimic symptoms of other conditions that typically show up in older adults, like weakened joints, osteoarthritis, nerve disorders and Parkinson’s disease. “The symptoms of hydrocephalus are so common,” Moghekar says, “that diagnosis really needs a good clinician.”

Diagnosis begins with an MRI, but other tests must be done to confirm the need for surgery in which shunts are inserted into the brain to drain fluid.

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