Congenital Hydrocephalus

November 29, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Congenital hydrocephalus is a relatively rare condition where a newborn child has an excess of fluid around the brain. Specifically, doctors will diagnose hydrocephalus when there is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain cavity. Newborns with this condition require specialized treatment and care to minimize the risk of brain damage and other difficulties.

To help you have a clear understanding of congenital hydrocephalus and to be able to take a proactive approach to care, educating yourself is critical to achieving the best possible outcome. The following information can help you learn more about the causes and treatment options for this condition.

Congenital Hydrocephalus Explained

The term hydrocephalus has roots in the Greek words for water (hydro) and head (cephalus). Congenital describes a condition that someone is born with. CSF, the liquid that causes hydrocephalus, is designed to deliver nutrients to the brain and spinal cord and remove waste products. In normal circumstances, this liquid gets absorbed back into the bloodstream, but with hydrocephalus the fluid is created faster than it can be removed, causing a buildup.

The result of this condition can be an enlarged head size as well as increased pressure on the brain that can be potentially damaging.

What Causes Congenital Hydrocephalus?

In general, congenital hydrocephalus can either develop due to genetic factors or by changes that occur during pregnancy. CSF can build up in the brain during and after pregnancy due to a combination of spaces in the brain, called ventricles, creating too much CSF, a blockage that prevents the fluid from draining, or an inability of the blood to reabsorb the fluid.

The primary underlying causes for these problems include:

  • Genetic variations that cause the development of narrow ventricles in the brain
  • The presence of an infection
  • The development of a cyst or tumor
  • Conditions such as spina bifida, which can block the flow of CSF out of the skull
  • The presence of a larger syndrome, such as Dandy-Walker Syndrome, that narrows pathways in the brain

Risk factors for congenital hydrocephalus are still being researched, but potential factors include maternal hypertension, alcohol consumption, and a significant lack of prenatal care.

Diagnosing Congenital Hydrocephalus

Doctors and other medical professionals are often able to detect potential signs of congenital hydrocephalus during routine ultrasounds. Further testing, such as amniotic fluid testing and magnetic resonance imagery (MRI), can help positively confirm hydrocephalus.

Although there is no way to begin treatment for this condition before birth, the more information that doctors can gather about the condition the better. This is particularly true due to the relationship that hydrocephalus has with other conditions and syndromes.

Hydrocephalus Treatment and Newborn Care

Upon diagnosis and birth, congenital hydrocephalus can be treated surgically with a shunt system. This involves a surgeon placing a small tube in the brain that assists in draining the CSF as it builds up.

In certain cases, a surgeon can also use microsurgical visualization technology to actually open up pathways in the brain to allow CSF to drain more normally.

It is critical following any type of hydrocephalus treatment to watch for signs of complications including infection, clogged shunts, and CSF building up again.

The long-term outlook for a newborn with congenital hydrocephalus depends on the underlying cause and often varies on a case-by-case basis. Babies with this condition often require specialized pediatric care, rehabilitation, and education, but are still able to achieve normal activities levels in many circumstances.

Reach Out to the Caring Team at Care Options for Kids in Florida

If your newborn has been diagnosed with congenital hydrocephalus and requires special care, it can bring a number of unique challenges. The Care Options for Kids team is here to help you find balance in a busy schedule and ensure your child gets the care they need.

We can provide dedicated home health services for comprehensive and flexible care. Care Options for Kids refers highly trained and caring nurses for personalized care for families. Whether you need just a few hours a day, or round-the-clock support, we are here for you.

Get in touch with our team and speak with a caring and dedicated home health care professional. You can also request a free in-home assessment. We will work closely with you and your family to build a personalized and comprehensive home care plan for a wide range of diagnoses, including hydrocephalus.