Medical Moment: A new treatment for normal pressure hydrocephalus

Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 5:33 PM EST
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(WNDU) - A condition known as “NPH” can be overlooked.

Experts worry it might be more than just part of the aging process. And sometimes, it can be wrongly diagnosed as Alzheimer’s. But for some patients, if it’s caught and treated, symptoms of the condition can be lessened. It can even be reversed in some instances.

It’s a tricky condition that mimics Alzheimer’s, but NPH patients have three telltale symptoms:

  • Unsteady gait
  • Memory loss
  • Frequent urination

“There’s a series of appropriate investigations that can take place so that you’re not missing an opportunity to help,” said Charles Matouk, MD, a neurosurgeon at the Yale School of Medicine.

Doctors confirm NPH with a spinal tap, then for some patients, surgeons insert a shunt into the brain to drain excess fluid, but that requires invasive surgery as surgeons drill into the brain.

“Even though many patients will significantly improve after a shunt, and it produces a meaningful improvement in their quality of life, there’s also a significant number of people that have a complication,” Dr. Matouk explained.

Dr. Matouk is part of the first medical team in the U.S. to test a minimally-invasive procedure to drain fluid, called an e-Shunt. Instead of going through the brain, surgeons insert a catheter through a small puncture hole in the leg and work inside the vein to reach the brain.

“That connects this pocket of fluid at the base of your brain into the vein, the internal jugular vein in your neck,” Dr. Matouk said.

An easier connection for patients, allowing the body to absorb the fluid and return to normal function.

An international team is also performing this procedure in Argentina.

The doctors say after researchers see the results of surgery from the small sample of patients, the next step would be a larger clinical trial.