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x-ray of a child with hydrosephalus

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), anywhere from one to two babies out of every 1,000 are born with hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs when cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) fluid doesn’t properly drain from the brain. CSF is the watery, clear fluid that cushions and surrounds the brain and spinal cord.


When the cerebrospinal fluid fails to drain, it places the brain under excessive pressure and causes swelling, which damages the brain tissue. Hydrocephalus is directly related to intellectual, developmental, and physical impairments.


Hydrocephalus can begin before the baby is born from spinal column birth defects and genetic abnormalities. It can also begin while the child is in the womb as a result of certain pregnancy infections, such as rubella. Hydrocephalus can also occur in infants, toddlers, and adolescents due to:

  • Central nervous system tumors
  • Head trauma
  • Injuries before, during, or after delivery
  • Brain bleeding during or after delivery
  • Meningitis and other central nervous system infections


Symptoms of hydrocephalus vary depending on the age of onset but may include:

  • Rapid increase in head circumference or unusually large head size
  • Seizures
  • Bulging eyes and an inability of the baby to look upward
  • Prominent scalp veins
  • Increased irritability
  • High-pitched cry
  • Poor feeding
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Sleepiness or less alert than usual
  • Developmental delays


If left untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal. While treatment may not reverse the brain damage that has already happened, the goal of treatment is to prevent the brain damage from progressing further. Physicians typically explore one of the following medical treatment options:


  • Shunt Insertion – A shunt, which is a drainage system comprised of a valve and a long tube, is surgically inserted. The valve helps facilitate the flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the right direction at a normal rate. Excess fluid from the brain drains out on the other end of the tube into the abdominal cavity or chest.
  • Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV) – As an alternative to the shunt procedure, a ventriculostomy involves creating a hole between or at the bottom of the ventricles. The placement allows the cerebrospinal fluid to safely leave the brain. This process involves the use of a tiny endoscope, which is a camera, to complete the procedure. Children who have an ETV may avoid the need to have the shunt replaced, getting infections, and other complications associated with shunts.

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