About Hydrocephalus for Pediatric Patients

This information will help you learn about hydrocephalus for pediatric patients. For the rest of this resource, our use of the words “you” and “your” refers to you or your child.

What is hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which extra fluid circulates around the brain and spinal cord. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). It is found in the ventricles of the brain and the spinal canal. As the CSF builds up, it causes the ventricles to enlarge and the pressure inside the head to increase (see Figure 1).

Brain without and with hydrocephalus
Back to top

What causes hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus can develop for a variety of reasons, sometimes as part of another condition.

Hydrocephalus can be congenital (present at birth) or develop due to an intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain), meningitis, a head injury, a tumor, or cysts.

Back to top

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus?

The symptoms of hydrocephalus vary depending on a person’s age and disease progression.

The most common symptoms of hydrocephalus include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue, drowsiness, or both
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes
  • Problems with thinking and memory (i.e., confusion)
  • Trouble with balance and walking
  • Poor coordination
  • Loss of control over urination
  • Visual disturbances, including blurred vision, diplopia (double vision), or downward deviation of the eyes (also called “sun setting ”; this is when the eyes turn downward, with the whites of the eyes showing above)
  • Seizures
  • Increased head size and bulging soft spot in infants
  • High pitched cry in infants
  • Poor feeding in infants
Back to top

How is hydrocephalus diagnosed?

Hydrocephalus is diagnosed through a neurological exam and by imaging procedures such as computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Back to top

How is hydrocephalus treated?

Your doctor may insert a device called a shunt into your head during surgery to treat hydrocephalus. The shunt drains the extra CSF out of the brain and moves it into the abdomen, where the body absorbs it. This decreases the pressure and swelling in the brain.

An alternative surgery, called an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV), can also be used to treat hydrocephalus. During an ETV, a tiny hole is made in the third ventricle of the brain. This allows the extra CSF to drain into another area of the brain where it can be absorbed. Your doctor or nurse will give you more information about treatment for hydrocephalus.

Back to top

When should I call my doctor or nurse practitioner?

Call your doctor or nurse practitioner if you are having any of the symptoms of hydrocephalus listed above.

These warning signs can appear quickly. If any of these signs or symptoms develop, call your doctor or nurse practitioner immediately.

If you cannot wake your child, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Back to top

Last Updated