Hydrocephalus: what you need to know

Hydrocephalus is a build-up of fluid in the brain. The excess fluid puts pressure on the brain, which can damage it.
Hydrocephalus occurs when fluid in the normal cavities inside the brain (ventricles) cannot be drained.

There are many reasons for this buildup of fluid, such as a birth defect, brain hemorrhage or brain tumors.
If left untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal.

People with hydrocephalus may experience the following symptoms:


– Increase in the size of the head is the main symptom
Muscular: muscle stiffness, abnormal walking or coordination problems
Gastrointestinal: vomiting or nausea
– Other common symptoms: , mental confusion, high-pitched crying, bladder leakage, irritability, headaches, memory loss, a small, tender pimple on an infant’s head, developmental delay, drowsiness, balance disorder or blurred vision.

Diagnosis of hydrocephalus

– Before birth, prenatal ultrasound
– After birth, CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging or head ultrasound

Before birth, hydrocephalus is often detected during a routine prenatal ultrasound.
After birth, physicians suspect this diagnosis in newborns based on symptoms detected during a routine clinical examination. Doctors then perform an ultrasound of the head to confirm the diagnosis of hydrocephalus.

In older infants and children, doctors perform a CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound of the head to confirm the diagnosis.

Once the diagnosis is made, all affected children have a CT scan or ultrasound to monitor the hydrocephalus and determine if it is getting worse.

Treating hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus can usually be treated with a thin tube (shunt) surgically implanted in the brain to drain excess fluid.