Hydrocephalus in Children

In children, hydrocephalus is typically a congenital condition caused by genetic and fetal development disorders.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Comprehensive prenatal care: The Rush Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center offers prenatal testing and diagnosis for hydrocephalus. The specialized team of neonatologists, genetics counselors and social workers provide expert support, evaluation and treatment during your pregnancy and after your child is born.
  • Immediate attention after birth: Most newborns with hydrocephalus require immediate medical attention. The Renée Schine Crown Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Rush is located immediately next to labor and delivery, allowing neonatal intensive care specialists to care for your child seconds after delivery.
  • Top-ranked programs: A team of neurologists and neurosurgeons at Rush care for babies after they are born. The neurology and neurosurgery programs at Rush are consistently ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News and World Report — and many of the doctors in this program care for children.
  • Family-centered care: Rush University Children’s Hospital is committed to family-centered care. You will be involved in your child’s care every step of the way.

What is hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is the buildup of too much fluid in the brain. The fluid creates pressure that can cause permanent brain damage — including physical and mental disabilities.

Hydrocephalus: what you should know

  • Hydrocephalus is sometimes referred to as water on the brain.
  • Routine prenatal ultrasounds can often detect hydrocephalus.
  • Myelomeningocele, the most serious and most disabling type of spina bifida (an abnormal development of the spinal cord in babies), is one of the most common causes of hydrocephalus in children.
  • Hydrocephalus is a serious condition; if left untreated, it is usually fatal.
  • Prompt treatment — which commonly involves a shunt procedure to drain excess fluid — typically allows babies and children with hydrocephalus to recover and live full, active lives.
  • Hydrocephalus can also occur after a child is born (known as acquired hydrocephalus). This can be caused by head injuries, infections, tumors and bleeding in the brain.

Symptoms of hydrocephalus

Call your primary care doctor or pediatrician if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Balance problems
  • Bladder control problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Thinking and memory problems
  • Vomiting and nausea

Having these symptoms does not mean your child has hydrocephalus. Many other conditions have similar symptoms. Your child’s doctor at Rush can help you determine the root of your child’s problem.

Care for hydrocephalus at Rush

For expectant mothers

  • Prenatal care: The fetal and neonatal medicine care team at Rush will work with you to develop a prenatal care strategy and a labor and delivery plan to help you and your baby stay as healthy as possible throughout the rest of your pregnancy.
  • Social and emotional support: Social workers in the Rush Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center can help you cope with the social and emotional challenges of having a baby with hydrocephalus.

For babies

  • Neonatal intensive care: Babies born with hydrocephalus need highly specialized intensive care when they are born. The NICU doctors at Rush provide this care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Surgery: Pediatric neurosurgeons at Rush perform the following surgical procedures on baby’s with hydrocephalus:
    • Shunt procedure: Drains fluid from the brain. This is the most common and effective treatment.
    • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy: A minimally invasive procedure to drain fluid out of the brain. Talk to your child’s doctor to determine if your child is a good candidate for this.
  • Expert referral: After your baby’s birth, surgery and recovery in the NICU at Rush, your baby’s doctors will refer you to a respected medical center that provides comprehensive physical therapy and rehabilitation that can help improve your child’s physical disabilities.