Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus Clinical Presentation

Updated: Sep 17, 2020
  • Author: Michael J Schneck, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Patients present with a gradually progressive disorder. As noted above, the classic triad consists of abnormal gait, urinary incontinence, and dementia. The gait disturbance is typically the earliest feature noted and considered to be the most responsive to treatment. The primary feature is thought to resemble an apraxia of gait. True weakness or ataxia is typically not observed.

The gait of NPH is characterized as bradykinetic, broad based, magnetic, and shuffling. The urinary symptoms of NPH can present as urinary frequency, urgency, or frank incontinence. While incontinence can result from gait disturbance and dementia, in a study by Sakakibara and colleagues, 95% of patients had urodynamic parameters consistent with detrusor overactivity. [7]

The dementia of NPH is characterized by prominent memory loss and bradyphrenia. Frontal and subcortical deficits are particularly pronounced. Such deficits include forgetfulness, decreased attention, inertia, and bradyphrenia. The presence of cortical signs such as aphasia or agnosia should raise suspicion for an alternate pathology such as Alzheimer disease or vascular dementia. However, comorbid pathology is not uncommon with advancing age. In one study, more than 60% of patients with iNPH had cerebrovascular disease. [8] In another similar study, more than 75% had Alzheimer disease pathology at the time of shunt surgery. [9]

Patients commonly present with a gait disorder and dementia. On neurologic examination, pyramidal tract findings may be present in addition to the above findings.



Normal pressure hydrocephalus may occur due to a variety of secondary causes but may be idiopathic in approximately 50% of patients. Secondary causes of NPH include head injury, subarachnoid hemorrhage, meningitis, and CNS tumor. Another potential cause could be previously compensated congenital hydrocephalus. [10]