Hydrocephalus is the medical term used to describe "fluid on the brain," a condition that causes head swelling and increased pressure on the brain. The neuroscience teams at Nemours Children’s Health System include renowned board-certified pediatric neurosurgeons, neurologists and neuroradiologists who are at the forefront of the diagnosis and treatment of congenital hydrocephalus and hydrocephalus in children. We use advanced imaging (including fetal diagnostic testing) and minimally-invasive endoscopic techniques. In fact, our neurosurgeons are internationally-recognized researchers and innovators wholly committed to helping babies and kids of all ages grow up happy and healthy without limitations.
Hydrocephalus in children is a condition that’s typically the result or symptom of another medical problem. But sometimes, there’s no apparent cause (this is referred to as "idiopathic"). We work with perinatal and fetal specialists, neonatologists and pediatric specialists in other medical disciplines who can discover what’s causing hydrocephalus in your child and how best to treat it.
What Is Hydrocephalus in Children?
Hydrocephalus happens when the cerebrospinal fluid ("CSF," the fluid that continuously circulates through the brain and spinal cord) doesn’t drain properly. The condition can be present at birth (this is called "congenital hydrocephalus") or occur overtime in older children (this is "acquired hydrocephalus").
Cerebrospinal fluid is produced in and carried through a series of passages referred to as the "ventricular system." CSF is responsible for floating or providing buoyancy for the brain inside the skull. When there’s a problem with this process, CSF accumulates and causes increased pressure within the skull and head swelling. Fluid can accumulate due to:
- obstruction (the flow of CSF is blocked within the ventricular system)
- improper absorption (the CSF doesn’t make its way out of the ventricular system)
- overproduction (too much CSF is produced and can’t be absorbed fast enough)
The good news is that hydrocephalus is a surgically treatable condition, particularly when discovered early — and many children can go on to live productive lives.
Causes of Congenital Hydrocephalus and Acquired Hydrocephalus in Children
There are many different causes of congenital hydrocephalus and acquired hydrocephalus in children, including:
- complications from premature birth (intraventricular hemorrhage or "bleeding" in the ventricles)
- subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding in the space between the brain and the membrane that covers it)
- genetic changes during fetal development (mutations in certain chromosomes)
- congenital conditions (Chiari malformation type II, craniosynostosis)
- neural tube defects (spina bifida, encephocele)
- tumors or cysts (cancerous or noncancerous)
- infections (meningitis)
- head trauma (traumatic brain injury, surgical complications)
Left untreated, hydrocephalus in children can damage the central nervous system and lead to delays in cognitive and physical functioning. That’s why early detection — which we can do while the baby is still in the womb — is important for the best treatment outcomes.
Hydrocephalus Research at Nemours Children’s Health System
Our neurosurgeons are leading the way in bringing new technologies and electrosurgical tools and instrumentation (using high-frequency electricity) to operating rooms around the globe — innovations with applications across medical specialties to help children with many different conditions. We’re also discovering evidence-based protocols to better understand, diagnose and manage the outcomes of neurological diseases and procedures that reduce the effects of neurosurgery.
Why Families Choose Nemours
Families choose Nemours because we’re wholly dedicated to building strong partnerships and providing family-centered care. Our team might know your child’s condition, but only you know your child best. We want you to be an active participant in the decision-making process, which is why we take the time to explain the diagnosis and treatment in understandable terms, present all of the options and invite your input to create the right treatment plan for your child.