Hydrocephalus in Newborns

Hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain,” is caused by a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain’s hollow spaces. These hollow spaces are called ventricles, and CSF buildup in them can lead to excessive pressure on the brain. Seeking treatment is important to lower the fluid buildup and relieve pressure before damage occurs.

How is hydrocephalus diagnosed?

There are several things to look at when making a diagnosis of hydrocephalus. Sometimes the scalp veins, baby’s head size, and other factors are strong indications. In other cases, the problem might not be as outwardly obvious, but the child may exhibit other symptoms. Doctors make a diagnosis of hydrocephalus by considering:

  • Symptom information
  • An exam
  • Imaging (tomography) such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging),
  • ultrasound, or CT scan

Neurologists and other doctors can use scans that look at the ventricles of the brain to see whether hydrocephalus is present. While hydrocephalus is commonly found in babies, older children can also develop the condition. The same basic symptoms are indicative of hydrocephalus, no matter the child’s age.

Treatments for Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is treatable. The exact treatment depends on the child’s age and the cause of the hydrocephalus.

SSMHealth notes the following three surgeries commonly used to treat hydrocephalus.

  • Ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt surgery: VP shunt surgery requires a tube placed under the skin that allows CSF to travel from the brain ventricles into the abdominal cavity where the stomach and bowels sit. From the peritoneal cavity, the CSF is absorbed into the bloodstream. A shunt needs replacement as a child grows or if it stops working or becomes infected.
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) surgery: ETV surgery involves making a small hole in the bottom of the ventricle. Extra CSF drains from the brain and is absorbed into the bloodstream.
  • Combined endoscopic third ventriculostomy/choroid plexus cauterization (ETV/CPC): This surgery is often the primary type of treatment for infants with hydrocephalus. It reduces the production of CSF and provides an alternate pathway for the fluid that remains. Since it combines fluid removal with fluid reduction, it can be a very effective way to improve the outlook for children who have hydrocephalus.

Additional treatments include early intervention programs that offer occupational and physical therapy. These treatments are designed to combat the slowed development that can come from hydrocephalus.

Most children are successfully treated for hydrocephalus, but they generally require ongoing medical support and multiple surgeries. Parents can help by making sure they take their children to all needed pediatric visits and follow their doctors’ recommendations.