Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

A diagnosis of hydrocephalus is usually based on:

  • Your answers to the doctor's questions about signs and symptoms
  • A general physical
  • A neurological exam
  • Brain imaging tests

Neurological exam

The type of neurological exam will depend on a person's age. The neurologist may ask questions and conduct relatively simple tests in the office to judge:

Muscle condition

  • Reflexes
  • Muscle strength
  • Muscle tone

Sensory status

  • Sense of touch
  • Vision and eye movement
  • Hearing

Movement status

  • Coordination
  • Balance

Psychiatric condition

  • Mental status
  • Mood

Brain imaging

Brain imaging tests can show enlargement of the ventricles caused by excess cerebrospinal fluid. They may also be used to identify underlying causes of hydrocephalus or other conditions contributing to the symptoms. Imaging tests may include:

  • Ultrasound. Ultrasound imaging, which uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images, is often used for an initial assessment for infants because it's a relatively simple, low-risk procedure. The ultrasound device is placed over the soft spot (fontanel) on the top of a baby's head. Ultrasound may also detect hydrocephalus prior to birth when the procedure is used during routine prenatal examinations.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed 3-D or cross-sectional images of the brain. This test is painless, but it is noisy and requires lying still. Some MRI scans can take up to an hour and require mild sedation for children. However, some hospitals may use a quick version of MRI that takes about five minutes and doesn't require sedation.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan is a specialized X-ray technology that can produce cross-sectional views of the brain. Scanning is painless and takes about 20 minutes. This test also requires lying still, so a child usually receives a mild sedative. CT scans for hydrocephalus are usually used only for emergency exams.
Aug. 02, 2014