You may have heard of a medical condition called “water on the brain.” The medical term for this is hydrocephalus, and the liquid is not water, but cerebrospinal fluid.

Babies with hydrocephalus have excessive cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in and around their brain. Some CSF is normal and necessary to protect the brain and spinal cord. However, too much fluid may accumulate if the flow is blocked or it is not properly absorbed. When this happens:

  • Pressure inside the skull increases
  • Spaces in the brain called ventricles widen more than normal
  • The bones in the skull may expand and separate
  • The baby’s head appears larger than normal
  • Damage to brain tissue may occur

Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus symptoms vary, but babies with this condition may have:

  • A large or bulging fontanel (soft spot on the top of the baby’s head)
  • An increase in head size
  • Protruding eyes
  • Difficulty looking up when facing forward
  • Seizures
  • Bulging scalp veins
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Frequent and severe vomiting

Hydrocephalus is usually diagnosed with imaging tests such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). During pregnancy, it may be discovered through prenatal screening exams.

Treatment Options for Hydrocephalus

Mercy neonatologists treat babies with hydrocephalus with the goal of reducing pressure inside the skull and draining the excess fluid. Our pediatric neurosurgeons and neurologists evaluate each child and develop the most effective treatment plan, taking into consideration the severity of the condition and the baby’s health and comfort.

The most common treatment is surgery to place a thin, flexible tube called a shunt into the baby’s brain to drain the extra CSF. The fluid is redirected to another part of the body, where it is absorbed.

Our medical team carefully monitors each infant’s progress to make sure that the shunt is functioning correctly and to prevent complications. 

We also educate parents and family members on how to care for their newest addition at home.

It’s frightening to learn that your baby has a problem that affects their brain. We’re here for you, with specialists who care for infants like yours with the most advanced technology and heartfelt compassion.

Mercy Neonatology

Our neonatology department includes experienced physician specialists, nurse practitioners, respiratory therapists and other specialists who care for critically ill newborns. Learn more.

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