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Hydrocephalus in Baby: Why Does it Occur and Can it be Prevented?

Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS · Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

Written by Louise Nichole Logarta · Updated Jun 23, 2021

Hydrocephalus in Baby: Why Does it Occur and Can it be Prevented?

When a baby is born with excess fluid inside their brain, this is a condition that is referred to as hydrocephalus. It’s commonly caused by conditions such as spina bifida, mumps, rubella, German measles, and infections a mother might have developed in the midst of the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, babies who are born with hydrocephalus or congenital hydrocephalus will suffer from permanent brain damage. It can also cause several complications that are long-term like learning disabilities and issues with physical coordination.

In the US, one to two of every 1,000 babies is born with hydrocephaly and is the tp reason for brain surgery in children.

What are the signs of hydrocephalus in baby?

In babies, parents will immediately notice physical changes in their babie’s head circumference. The fluid build-up causes the bones in the skull to stretch and expand, leading to an abnormally large head.

In addition to the appearance, your baby may show the following signs and symptoms.

  • bulging fontanel
  • Visible and prominent veins on the scalp
  • seizures
  • In addition to enlarged head, the baby may have bulging/ protruding eyes
  • They are unable to look upward
  • More irritable than usual
  • High-pitched cry
  • Does not feed or latch properly
  • Vomiting
  • Does not seem fully alert or seems lethargic
  • Is not hitting their developmental milestones on time
  • These symptoms can be caused by other conditions so it’s best to consult your pediatrician for any concerns.

    What can be the cause of hydrocephalus?

    Hydrocephalus in the past has been referred to as “water on the brain.” However, it is not really excess water that is surrounding the interior of the brain, but cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

    There are many functions as to why the brain produces this liquid and here are some of the most significant ones:

    • CSF can act as protection for the brain from potential damage.
    • It can remove waste products that are inside the brain.
    • CSF also has the ability to provide the brain with the nutrients that it needs in order to function properly.

    The brain produces new bouts of this fluid every single day, around a pint. Old fluid is then removed from the interior of the brain and absorbed into the blood vessels.

    However, if this cycle or process is interrupted or stopped abruptly, it is possible that the levels of CSF in the brain can build up. In turn, this causes a large amount of pressure on the brain.

    What happens to children with hydrocephalus?

    There are many causes of hydrocephalus:

    • Your child may already be born with it
    • It might be a complication of early or premature birth
    • It can also occur due to an infection or meningitis
    • The condition can also develop because of a complication arising from a brain tumor
    • There are also cases where it is unknown.

    Hydrocephaly is usually diagnosed by measuring the size of an infant’s head through an ultrasound scan, CT scan, and MRI scan.

    If left untreated, a child’s head will get larger, with more pressure put on the brain. This consequently interrupts the process of your child’s growth and development. Severe cases of hydrocephalus involve brain damage and problems with sight.

    Available treatment

    Treatment is aimed to reduce the pressure on the brain by draining away the CSF. This is done by using a long silicone tube that is inserted into the ventricles during operation. This then drains the CSF towards the direction of the abdomen or even the heart. The rate of drainage can also be controlled.

    There are different methods for treatment, depending on the severity and on the condition of the child. It is best to discuss your concerns with your doctor to better understand the risks and management. 

    What are the risks?

    Leaving hydrocephalus untreated is not only dangerous but can be extremely fatal. The best way to address this condition is through early diagnosis. Bring your child to regular checkups with your doctor. In addition,  immediate treatment will further improve chances for recovery.

    Even if recovery from hydrocephalus may seem challenging – as it directly affects the brain – surgery, therapy, and interventions can help a child recover well. Be rest assured that they will be able to lead happy, normal lives like other kids. Therefore, seek treatment immediately and don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. 

    Learn other Child Health Issues here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS

    Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

    Written by Louise Nichole Logarta · Updated Jun 23, 2021

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