Hydrocephalus occurs when the fluid in the brain cannot drain away into the bloodstream because the normal pathways are blocked. The fluid is still being made by the brain, so the buildup of fluid will cause pressure to rise inside the brain. A child with hydrocephalus may have abnormally large head measurements. They may experience difficulty feeding, irritability, delayed cognitive development, headaches, vomiting, blurred vision, difficulty walking and delayed growth.
Causes: Our bodies continually produce cerebral spinal fluid, which circulates through the ventricles of the brain and the spinal column and is also absorbed by the body. Hydocephalus develops when there is an excess of fluid on the brain. This is usually caused by an obstruction, where fluid is blocked from leaving one part of the brain (non-communicating hydrocephalus). It can also rarely be caused by an overproduction of fluid or an inability for the body to absorb some of the fluid (communicating hydrocephalus). Hydrocephalus may occur in infancy or in older children and can be caused by a brain bleed (which may be as a result of a premature birth), meningitis, cysts or brain tumors, or other rare causes.
Possible complications: Left untreated, hydrocephalus can cause permanent brain damage. Children with hydrocephalus can also experience learning delays, hormonal imbalances, seizures, and hearing and vision issues. Hydrocephalus is also common in children with Spina Bifida.
Treatment: The most common treatment for hydrocephalus is surgery to put in a shunt, which is a tube that helps drain fluid from the brain. One end of the tube is usually placed in a ventricle of the brain and the other end is put in a part of the body where the cerebral spinal fluid can be more easily absorbed, such as the abdomen or the heart. Another option is a Ventriculostomy, which is a surgical procedure where a doctor creates a hole in one of the ventricles to help drain the fluid. This surgery is not an option for every child, and there is also a risk that the hole will close on its own.
Prognosis: The long-term prognosis for children with hydrocephalus depends on the severity and treatment. Children who also have spina bifida may have more long-term complications. Untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal. However, with early intervention, many kids with hydrocephalus go on to lead healthy lives.
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