Fluid on the Brain: Diagnosis and Life Insurance Implications

As adults, we can generally tell when something is off when it comes to our bodies. So why don’t we just go to a doctor?

It’s a genuine question that only gets met with defense and emotionally charged answers. Often going to the doctor doesn’t seem worth the hassle, and between the possible hospital fees and rise of insurance premiums, it can be easier to blame old age.

However, if you’re over 60 years of age and haven’t been feeling like yourself, there could be significant reasons why going without treatment could be life-threatening.

Life insurance tip: Don’t let fees scare you into not going to the doctor. Even if you receive a diagnosis, life insurance companies will likely issue an APS underwriting for life insurance request that makes any payouts difficult to dispute.

Signs There is Fluid on the Brain

You may have heard not to freak out after telling someone the worst-case scenarios you’ve found online; listen to that.

Make time to take a deep breath because when you don’t know what’s going on with your health, you can’t help but worry, making symptoms worse. Ease your mind by starting with the basics. Knowing what signs to be aware of can help you better document how relevant a doctor’s visit may be. 

Fluid on the brain isn’t as easy as spotting a bruise or broken bone, so journal what symptoms you experience when you experience them. Some symptoms of fluid on the brain for adults may include:

  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle soreness
  • Loss of bladder controls
  • Feeling the frequent need to urinate
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or trouble walking
  • Declined coordination
  • Vertigo or imbalance that results in falling
  • Seizures

What to Know About Hydrocephalus 

Hydrocephalus is a neurological disorder caused by excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the ventricles of the brain. Usually, the bodily fluid produced to cushion your brain is created and absorbed each day. 

In hydrocephalic patients, the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord is being produced excessively or experiencing a blockage. This results in poor drainage and extreme pressure on the brain, sometimes causing the head to swell.

Causes of Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus can be congenital, brought on by physical trauma, or due to many reasons from aging. Getting a hydrocephalus diagnosis may be difficult since the symptoms related to fluid on the brain coincide with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological disorders.

A few forms of hydrocephalus are:

  • Hydrocephalus ex-vacuo: If you’ve ever had to squeeze into an elevator before, that’s kind of what’s happening in your brain. This is when a degenerative disease, like Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, meningitis, stroke, or a traumatic injury causes damage to the brain. These causes trigger the brain to shrink, making CSF fill the space and resulting in a hydrocephalus diagnosis.
  • Non-communication (obstructive) hydrocephalus: This is similar to someone trying to communicate with a poor connection. When CSF drainage is blocked from any of the ventricles, the patient experiences increased pressure within the skull.
  • Communicating hydrocephalus: This cause is like being stuck in traffic. Things are moving, but there’s a backup somewhere causing trouble throughout multiple passageways. Communicating hydrocephalus is when CSF is flowing past the ventricles but becomes blocked after leaving.

How Hydrocephalus Is Diagnosed

For some, getting the right diagnosis is a long journey. My grandmother was told by multiple doctors that she had various degenerative disorders before seeking out a neurologist.

To determine if your symptoms are due to fluid on the brain, a neurologist will order one or more of these tests:

  • Physical examination
  • Ultrasound
  • Intracranial pressure monitoring (ICP)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography scan (CT / CAT scan)
  • Spinal tap / Lumbar puncture 
  • Isotope cisternography

Life and health insurance tip: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you cannot be dropped from your health insurance coverage due to a pre-existing condition being diagnosed, and the same goes for life insurance.

If you are already a policyholder, it is illegal for your insurance providers to decline your account after a medical diagnosis.

Living With Hydrocephalus

Unfortunately, there is no cure for hydrocephalus, but treatment options and lifestyle changes can help ease the strain. The first thing you should do is senior safety-proof your home in ways that relate to your most prominent symptoms. 

Lifestyle Changes

The last thing you probably want to think about is more change, but with no medical cure available, making your treatment plan a lifestyle will help you combat your symptoms. 

What we put in is what we get out when it comes to our diet. A list of foods that help increase brain and CSF function is:

  • Honey 
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple
  • Lemon
  • Avocados 
  • Spinach 
  • Kale 
  • Broccoli 
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Beans 
  • Lentils 
  • Brown rice
  • Granola 
  • Oats
  • Salmon
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic 
  • Ginseng 
  • Tea 

What to avoid:

  • Candy
  • Processed foods
  • Chile
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate (raw cacao is fine)
  • Dairy
  • Meat
  • Refined flour
  • Vinegar

Most of all, staying hydrated is key. Water aids both brain function and blood flow, which will help your CSF levels and moderate your symptoms. 

Adjusting your lifestyle to incorporate more of these foods, regulated forms of safe exercise, and meditation will help support the treatment plan you and your doctor choose.

Surgery Options for Hydrocephalus

The word surgery is scary, but without it, fluid on the brain can cause severe complications for both your mental and physical well-being. 

Treating hydrocephalus patients will require surgery, but modern technologies are making brain surgery seem as breezy as getting a root canal. (My grandmother’s words).

The list of medical treatment options is:

  • Shunt – This less intrusive option is what my grandmother chose. It may be available depending on the severity of your case. A shunt is a thin tube with a valve placed in the brain to divert the excess fluid away. Normally the shunt will connect to the abdomen but can be put in other places as well.

For adults, this procedure could be the last major medical step needed to live a healthy everyday life, but the shunt may need adjusting, requiring additional visits.


  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) – Neurosurgeons will use a camera to drill a small hole under the third ventricle of a patient’s skull, allowing the excess CSF to drain away from the brain.


Trust the treatment plan that your doctor suggests, and know that being diagnosed with hydrocephalus isn’t the end to life as you knew it. You can still do the things you enjoy but allow your body time to adjust and recover.

Watching a loved one live with hydrocephalus and go through treatment, I know the storm of emotions you and your family are likely experiencing. I am thankful that my grandmother got a shunt because she is coming back to herself every day.

Fluid on the brain doesn’t have to hold you underwater. Seek out a proper diagnosis right away if you think your symptoms are being caused by hydrocephalus.

Danielle Beck-Hunter writes and researches for the life insurance site, EffortlessInsurance.com. She researched hydrocephalus when hearing of her grandmother’s condition. Knowing that medical reports can be intimidating and confusing, she hopes that this article helps anyone with a loved one diagnosed or who is struggling themselves with hydrocephalus.