Hydrocephalus is a buildup of fluid in the brain. The fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is made in the brain and protects the brain and spinal cord. Normally, as new fluid is made, the old fluid is absorbed into the bloodstream. If extra fluid builds up, it puts pressure on the brain. People commonly refer to hydrocephalus as water on the brain.
Hydrocephalus is usually a life-long condition that may be mild or serious. In mild cases, your child may have normal intelligence and a normal lifespan. In serious cases, the pressure on the brain may damage the brain and cause problems with learning, growth, and behavior.
Hydrocephalus happens most often in newborns. It can happen when the flow of fluid inside the brain is blocked, when extra fluid is made in the brain, or when the fluid cannot be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Problems that can cause hydrocephalus include birth defects, head injury, a tumor, infection, or bleeding in the brain.
Symptoms in a newborn may include:
Symptoms in an older child may include:
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your provider will suspect hydrocephalus if your child's head seems to be getting bigger too fast. Tests may include:
Sometimes hydrocephalus can be diagnosed with one of these scans before a child is born.
If not treated, hydrocephalus can become serious, causing brain damage or death. Treatment for hydrocephalus depends on the cause. The most common treatment is surgery to put a tube inside your child’s body to drain the extra fluid from the brain. The tube, called a shunt, drains the fluid into the abdomen (belly) or heart. Your child may need several surgeries throughout life as he or she grows, or if the shunt gets blocked or infected.
Some children may be able to have surgery that will allow the fluid to flow into other parts of the brain where it can be absorbed easily.
Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.
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