Also known as: water on the brain, fluid in the brain

What is Hydrocephalus?

The brain and spinal cord are normally surrounded by a fluid produced by vessels (the choroid plexus) in the brain called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF normally flows through the cavities of the brain (ventricles) and circulates around the brain and spinal cord, production being balanced by reabsorption into the bloodstream.

Hydrocephalus ("hydro" means water, "cephalus" means the brain) is primarily an excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain. This excess of cerebrospinal fluid accumulation causes the fluid spaces (the ventricles) of the brain to enlarge causing pressure on the surrounding brain.

What causes hydrocephalus?

Experts aren’t exactly sure why some baby’s develop hydrocephalus, but common causes include congenital abnormalities of the CSF pathway (for unknown reasons, genetic abnormalities or development disorders), following a bleed into the brain intraventricular hemorrhage), infections, malformations of the brain or brain tumors. It also appear as a complication of other diseases.

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus causes different symptoms in infants than in older children and adults.

Infants with hydrocephalus typically have:

  • a large head
  • downward deviation of the eyes (“sun setting” sign)
  • irritability
  • sleepiness
  • vomiting
  • seizures
Older children and adults might experience headache, lethargy, drowsiness, vision problems (blurred or double vision), poor coordination, gait disturbance, nausea and vomiting, trouble with balance and personality changes, among other symptoms.

What are hydrocephalus care options?

Treatment for hydrocephalus depends on the underlying cause but usually involves creating a pathway for the excess fluid to flow out of the head to another area of the body. This is usually done with a "shunt system," though a treatment called endoscopic third ventriculostomy may also be used in some instances. Sometimes cauterization of the choroid plexus is required.

The Fetal Care Center and Brain Institute Teams at Nicklaus Children's Hospital

The Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s is devoted to the care of infants prediagnosed with medical needs in utero that will require intervention at birth. In collaboration with the Brain Institute’s Division of Neurosurgery, they offer the best possible care and outcomes for patients.

The Nicklaus Children's multidisciplinary team of pediatric subspecialists including pediatric surgeons, ob/gyns, neonatologists, cardiologists and other specialists collaborate with prenatal care providers in the community and beyond to provide families comprehensive, coordinated care and support from prenatal testing to delivery, postnatal care and the transition to infant care.

Reviewed by: John Ragheb, MD

This page was last updated on: January 05, 2021 04:09 PM

Fetal Care Center

The Fetal Care Center is dedicated to families expecting an infant with medical needs that require intervention at birth. The facility offers comprehensive, coordinated care from prenatal diagnosis to delivery, postnatal care and the transition to infant care.

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Hydrocephalus Program

Our team of doctors and nurses has decades of experience caring for children with complex neurological disorders requiring surgery.

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Patient Success Stories

Sebastian's Fight

Sebastian was only 11 years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, hydrocephalus and a teratoma. His mother Martha says she was shocked to learn her otherwise healthy son began experiencing headaches. Read More.

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Choroid Plexus Brain Tumor

The choroid plexus is the tissue that lies in the cavities of the brain (called ventricles and there are four of them) that creates the fluid (cerebrospinal fluid) which surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord. Learn more

Neuro-ophthalmic Causes of Visual Loss

When a problem with the brain or neurological conditions, such as migraine, multiple sclerosis, hydrocephalus, brain tumor, optic atrophy and others, causes vision problems, this is known as neuro-ophthalmic causes of visual loss. Learn more

Increased Head Circumference

If the distance around a child’s head is larger than expected based on his or her age, this is known as increased head circumference. Learn more

Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy with Choroid Plexus Cauterization

Endoscopic third ventriculostomy with choroid plexus cauterization is a surgical treatment option for hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. Learn more

Shunt Placement

A shunt is a valve that is connected to a catheter to divert excess cerebral spinal fluid to another part of the body for absorption. Our neurosurgeons use various types of shunt valves, both fixed pressure and programmable valves to treat hydrocephalus in babies and children. These options are determined based on each patient's individual needs. Learn more

Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV)

Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV) is used as an alternative to shunting in selected patients with hydrocephalus. Learn more

Shunt Placement/Shunt Revision

This document describes what to expect and how to manage your child's care before and after a shunt placement or revision surgery. Learn more