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Hydrocephalus is a medical term used to describe the excessive build-up of fluid in the brain. Treatments, such as shunt surgery help babies who develop hydrocephalus. However, if hydrocephalus is not caught in time, it can lead to disorders such as cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and speech and vision issues.
What is Hydrocephalus?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, hydrocephalus is a term that refers to cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) abnormally building up in the ventricles of the brain. The fluid buildup can cause severe pressure on brain tissue.
CSF is a colorless fluid that helps protect the spine and brain by cushioning them. However, when the fluid flow is blocked, buildup occurs. The buildup can eventually cause numerous medical issues and, in some cases, death.
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Types of Hydrocephalus
There are two main types of hydrocephalus, which include congenital and acquired.
Congenital hydrocephalus occurs when babies are born with the condition. Common causes of congenital hydrocephalus include:
- Complications during the birth of a premature baby
- Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida
- Maternal infections, such as rubella
- Genetic abnormalities
- Arachnoid cysts
- Dandy-Walker syndrome
Acquired hydrocephalus occurs after birth or during a traumatic birth. Common causes of acquired hydrocephalus include:
- Injuries that cause brain bleeding
- Fluid build-up due to hemorrhaging, such as an intraventricular hemorrhage
- Head injury
- Brain tumors
- Birth trauma
- Maternal meningitis
How Hydrocephalus Causes Cerebral Palsy
When the fluid builds up in the brain, it not only has the potential to stretch the skull, but the pressure on the brain can lead to brain damage, which, in turn, can lead to cerebral palsy.
According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “children with cerebral palsy and ventriculomegaly (larger than normal ventricle) seem to have a high incidence of increased CSF pressure, and thus, of occult hydrocephalus.” 
If diagnosed quickly, hydrocephalus can be manageable. There are currently two standard treatment methods used.
A shunt, the most common treatment method physicians use, is a flexible tube that is surgically inserted under the skin of the patient’s brain. The tube then drains the excess fluid, which is then transferred to the patient’s abdomen. The patient’s body then absorbs the fluid.
Another treatment method is an Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV). An ETV works by making a small hole in the patient’s third ventricles. This allows the fluid “trapped within the brain’s ventricles to escape into its normal pathway,” Boston Children’s Hospital physician Dr. Benjamin Warf reports.
Other treatments for hydrocephalus include:
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Special education teachers for children with learning disabilities
- Social workers
- Mental health professionals
Early diagnosis and treatment of hydrocephalus are crucial. As mentioned earlier, if not caught in time or left untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal.
However, with early detection, surgery, and therapy options, there is a chance that a baby with hydrocephalus can do well.
Failure to Detect Hydrocephalus
Parents may not be aware at first that their infant has hydrocephalus, especially if healthcare professionals fail to detect the signs and symptoms and make a diagnosis. Since it can take days for parents to notice the signs, the brain swelling could cause damage before medical treatment starts.
Along with cerebral palsy, failure to detect and diagnose hydrocephalus can also lead to speech delays, vision issues, seizures, mental and physical disabilities, encephalitis, and developmental delays.
If your baby developed hydrocephalus and you suspect it was due to medical negligence, there is a chance you may have a valid medical malpractice lawsuit.
- Hydrocephalus fact sheet. (2020, May 13). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Retrieved from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/DISORDERS/PATIENT-CAREGIVER-EDUCATION/FACT-SHEETS/HYDROCEPHALUS-FACT-SHEET
- Albright, A., Ferson, S., & Carlos, S. (n.d.). Occult hydrocephalus in children with cerebral palsy. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubMed.
Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15617590/
- Warf, MD, B. (n.d.). ETV/CPC procedure. Boston Children's Hospital.
Retrieved from: https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/treatments/etv-cpc-procedure
- Lindquist B, Carlsson G, Persson EK, Uvebrant P. Learning disabilities in a population-based group of children with hydrocephalus. Acta Paediatr 2005; 94:878.
Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7575326_Learning_disabilities_in_a_population-based_group_of_children_with_hydrocephalus