Idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus: theoretical concept of a spinal etiology

Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(1):110-4. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2006.01.023. Epub 2006 Mar 7.


Normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH) is an adult syndrome characterised by a combination of gait disturbance, varying degrees of cognitive decline, urinary incontinence, ventricular enlargement and normal mean intracranial pressure. Since this syndrome was first described, its pathophysiology has been a matter of great debate, although it is now considered that NPH could be divided into two groups: cases with unknown etiology (idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus, or INPH) and those which develop from several known causes (such as trauma, meningitis or subarachnoid haemorrhage). The pathophysiology of INPH is still unclear and a matter of debate. In this manuscript, the current pathophysiological conditions of INPH are analysed and the authors put forward the theory that the disease is a dynamic syndrome which occurs in patients who have suffered a significant loss of spinal compliance over time. Consequently, intracranial pressure increases more during systole in INPH patients because it cannot be compensated for by the escape of CSF into the spinal canal as effectively, due to the reduced volume or lack of distension of the spinal canal. This leads to an increase in ventricular size and causes cumulative brain damage over a long period of time and accounts for the slow, progressive nature of NPH. The loss of spinal compliance with age is fundamental to the proposed theory which provides a theoretical justification for studying the spinal canal in INPH and investigating the relationship between the progressive narrowing of the spinal canal and the compensating ability of the craniospinal system.

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / metabolism*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Shunts
  • Humans
  • Hydrocephalus, Normal Pressure / diagnosis*
  • Hydrocephalus, Normal Pressure / etiology
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Spinal Canal / anatomy & histology
  • Spinal Canal / pathology
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Time Factors