Hydrocephalus is when too much cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the brain.          This causes the brain, and eventually the head, to swell.

When a person has hydrocephalus, one of a few complications could be happening:

  • Something could be hindering the cerebrospinal fluid from flowing through the body.
  • The blood vessels are not absorbing the fluid.
  • Too much cerebrospinal fluid is being created.

Here is a picture of what hydrocephalus looks like in the brain compared to a regularly developing brain.


  • 1 in 500 infants born will have hydrocephalus.  
  • Effects both genders and all ethnicities.
  • The survival rate of children has increased from about 50% to 95%.
  • Intellectual impairment has decreased from about 60% to 30%.
  • After receiving a shunt implantation, about 50% of the patients must have a followup surgery to repair the shunt within the next two years.
  • Along with needed repairs often, shunts only last about 10 years before needing to be replaced.


Some causes for hydrocephalus could have started before the birth of the baby while others may have started after birth.

Before birth (Prenatal):

  • Spinal column does not close
  • Genetic
  • Diseases caught while in the womb

After birth (Perinatal/Postnatal):

  • Infections
  • Tumors
  • Traumatic head injuries

Signs and Symptoms

Infants, older children, and adults are able to have hydrocephalus. The signs and symptoms to be looking for will vary depending on age, the seriousness of the disease, and the person's resilience.

One sign that only occurs in infants is an abnormal increase in head size. The infants's head is still developing physically and so it is able to continue to expand in order to make room for the extra cerebrospinal fluid.  Older children and adult's skulls are not able to adapt to the extra build up of fluid.

Signs in Infants:

  • Vomiting
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability/fussiness
  • Downward deviation of eyes
  • Seizures
  • Rapid increase in head circumference

Signs in older children/Adults:

  • Head ache and then vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Lack of energy  
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Changes in personality and memory
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Developmental delays


If a doctor notices these physical signs, then they would also conduct other tests for a diagnosis.

  • Ultrasound: Gives a better picture of the brain.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging: Able to see if there is extra cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.
  • Computerized Tomography: Helps to the if the ventricles in the brain are expanding, causing too much pressure.


Once the diagnosis has been made, it is very crucial that treatment be done right away. Any treatment done is only able to help prevent further damage to the brain. It cannot repair what has been injured by the swelling.  

The treatment that is most common for hydrocephalus is by surgically implanting a shunt. This is a permanent implantation. Like I mentioned earlier, surgery to repair a shunt is needed about every two years and its life span is only 10 years.

The shunt manages the cerebrospinal fluid, allowing the right amount of fluid to flow.

There are many different types of shunts. Here is an example of two:

  • Ventriculo-Peritoneal (VP) Shunt: Excess cerebrospinal fluid is transported to the abdomen.
  • Ventriculo-atrial (VA) Shunt: Excess cerebrospinal fluid is transported to the lung cavity or the atria of the heart.  

Resource List

The National Hydrocephalus Foundation has a section on their website where viewers are able to read different "Success Stories and Articles". They are a great encouragement to other families who are going through the same thing! Here is one of the stories posted:


Bell, C., & Bell, R. (n.d.). Learn About Hydrocephalus - Hydro Research Fund. Retrieved April 10, 2015, from

Delgado, A. (2015, August 15). Hydrocephalus. Retrieved April 2, 2015. Retrieved from:

Facts about Hydrocephalus | Hydrocephalus statistics | NHFOnline.org. (n.d.). Retrieved April 10, 2015, from

Stöppler, M. (2015, January 1). Hydrocephalus: Read About Symptoms and Treatment. Retrieved April 6, 2015. Retrieved from:

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