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A baby with hydrocephalus has extra fluid around his or her brain. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid. It lives in fluid-filled areas (ventricles) of your child’s brain and spreads to the spinal cord.
Too much fluid can increase the pressure in your baby’s head. This causes the bones in your baby’s skull to expand and separate. His or her head may look larger than normal.
Hydrocephalus occurs in about 1 out of 500 babies. This condition may be caused by the following:
This condition can be congenital. This means that your baby is born with it. Hydrocephalus can also come on later in life. Causes of this condition include:
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:
The symptoms of hydrocephalus may be similar to symptoms of other conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A healthcare provider may first spot this condition in your baby during an ultrasound in pregnancy. In many cases, hydrocephalus doesn't develop until the third trimester of the pregnancy. Ultrasounds done earlier in pregnancy may not show this condition.
Your child may be diagnosed with this condition after birth. Your child’s healthcare provider will give your child an exam. The healthcare provider will ask you about your child’s prenatal, birth, and family history. If your baby is older, your child’s healthcare provider may ask if he or she is meeting milestones. Children with this condition may be likely to have developmental delays. If your child has a delay, his or her healthcare provider may check for underlying problems.
Your baby’s head may be larger than normal. Your child’s healthcare provider will measure his or her head. If your baby’s head size isn’t in the normal range, he or she will have tests. These tests can confirm hydrocephalus.
This test uses sound waves to create an image of the inside of the body. During pregnancy, this test can show the size of the ventricles inside of your baby’s head.
This test uses large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer. Together, these show detailed images of organs and structures inside of your baby’s body.
This test uses X-rays and computer technology to make detailed images of any part of your baby’s body. These include bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than X-rays.
The goal of treatment is to reduce the pressure inside of your baby's head. This is done by draining the fluid. Your child may need medicine to remove the extra fluid. Some children need surgery.
In surgery, a doctor places a mechanical shunting device in your baby’s head. This helps to drain the fluid from your baby’s brain. The fluid is directed to another part of your baby’s body, where it can be absorbed.
The shunt usually runs behind your baby’s ear. The tubing goes under your baby’s skin to the abdomen, heart, or lung. Your baby's doctor will decide the drainage location. This will be based on your baby’s condition, age, and other factors. The abdomen is generally the first choice. A ventriculoperitoneal shunt is often used to direct fluid into the abdomen.
Sometimes surgery and shunts can cause problems. Possible complications include:
After surgery, your child’s healthcare team will tell you how to care for your baby at home. They’ll also tell you symptoms that are an emergency. If your child has these symptoms, call his or her healthcare provider right away.
Hydrocephalus can affect your baby’s brain and development. Your child’s outlook depends on how severe his or her condition is. It also depends on other brain and health problems your baby has.
The key to treating this condition is getting it diagnosed and treated early, and avoiding infections. Your baby will need regular checkups to make sure his or her shunt is working right. Your child’s healthcare team will work closely with you as your baby grows.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.