FAQ on Hydrocephalus in Babies & Children(Causes, Treatment, Types, Diagnosis)

(Article Updated on July 28, 2022)

Click here to read about Hydrocephalus in Adults

This page contains the most popular questions people have on Hydrocephalus in Babies and Children. On this page, you can find all of these popular questions answered in an elaborate manner. You will also finally discover the answers to the unique questions that have been asked but not answered on other media platforms.

Hydrocephalus in babies and children is a condition where there’s an unhealthy buildup of fluid in the brain. This condition, also known as cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricular system, can potentially cause damaging increased pressure in the head. There’s a high chance that most children who have hydrocephalus are born with it.

What is hydrocephalus in babies and children?

Hydrocephalus in babies and children is a buildup of fluid in the cavities within the brain. It is a chronic, neurological condition that is characterized by a disturbance of the formation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the cavities of the brain.

The buildup of fluid increases the size of the ventricles and ends up putting pressure on the brain. The pressure can damage brain tissues and also, be responsible for a range of brain function issues.

Hydrocephalus in babies and children is a condition that can happen at any age but studies show that it occurs frequently among infants and adults over 60. This condition requires surgical treatment to restore and maintain the brain’s cerebrospinal fluid levels.

For health issues resulting from this condition, different therapies are often recommended to manage the symptoms. The medical term for this condition, hydrocephalus, comes from two Greek words which are “Hydro” meaning water and “Cephalus” meaning head. [1] 

Hydrocephalus in Babies

What are the 3 causes of hydrocephalus in babies and children?

The 3 causes of hydrocephalus in babies and children are Acquired Hydrocephalus, Congenital Hydrocephalus, and Communicating Hydrocephalus. Acquired Hydrocephalus is typically caused by an injury or disease and is usually developed at birth or in adulthood. Congenital Hydrocephalus may be developed during fetal development and is present at birth.

It can also be due to genetic abnormalities. Communicating Hydrocephalus is when there’s no obstruction to the CSF flow within the ventricular system. It is either due to inadequate absorption or as a result of an abnormal increase in the CSF quantity.

To date, the exact causes of this chronic condition are not known but studies show that it is developed in childhood or adulthood.

It can be inherited genetically or it can be associated with developmental disorders such as Spina Bifida or Encephalocele. It can also occur due to hemorrhage, brain tumors, head injuries, or diseases like meningitis. [2]

What are the types of hydrocephalus in babies and children?

The types of hydrocephalus in babies and children are Communicating Hydrophelus and Non-Communicating Hydrocephalus. Communicating Hydrocephalus, also known as non-obstructive) is when the brain fluid becomes blocked but can still flow between the ventricles.

Non-Communicating Hydrophelus, also known as obstructive, is when the brain fluid becomes blocked in one or more narrow passages connected to the ventricles.

Both types of this condition can be characterized as congenital hydrocephalus and acquired hydrocephalus. Congenital hydrocephalus means that the condition was already present at birth while acquired hydrocephalus means the condition occurred after birth. [3]

What type of hydrocephalus is the most common in babies and children?

The most common type of hydrocephalus in babies and children is Obstructive Hydrocephalus, also known as Non-Communicating Hydrocephalus, where the CFS (cerebrospinal fluid) blockage is at the level of the brain’s fluid spaces.

One of the most common causes of this condition is aqueductal stenosis which is a small passage in the middle of the brain between the third and fourth ventricles. It can also be caused by an obstructing tumor or mass like a colloid cyst or tectal plate glioma. [4]

What are the symptoms of hydrocephalus in babies and children?

The symptoms of hydrocephalus in babies and children are poor feeding, irritability reduced activity, and vomiting for infants with this condition. The symptoms of this defect in children and adults are slowing of mental capacity, headaches, cognitive deterioration, neck pain, vomiting, double vision, blurred vision, difficulty in walking, and drowsiness. [5]

Can you live a normal life with hydrocephalus?

You can live a normal life with hydrocephalus as studies show that many people with this defect have been able to lead long, problem-free lives. The benefits of going through surgery to treat this condition have helped people live a normal life but if left untreated, this defect can be fatal as the symptoms can get worse over time.

According to the Hydrocephalus Association, 40% of infants and 60% of children with this condition are able to lead independent lives. Some are living on their own while others require just sufficient assistance to manage on a day-to-day basis. [6]

Can hydrocephalus in babies and children be cured?

Hydrocephalus in babies and children cannot be cured but it can be treated with surgery and managed with the right therapies. The treatment of this condition aims to reduce its pressure on the brain. The most common approach for the treatment of Hydrocephalus is with surgery where a fine tube called a shunt is placed to help drain the fluid.

(Pediatric neurosurgeons Stanley O. Skarli, MD, and Catherine McClung Smith, MD, with Prisma Health in Columbia, South Carolina, discuss the condition and treatment options. )

The shunt, also known as a flexible tube, is placed under the skin to drain the brain’s excess fluid into the chest cavity or the abdomen to make it easier for the body to absorb it. The other option to treat this condition is with an Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV).

An ETV can improve the CSF flow out of the brain. The treatment requires surgeons to create a tiny hole at the bottom of the third ventricle so the CSF can be diverted there just to relieve pressure. [7]

Do babies with hydrocephalus survive?

Babies with hydrocephalus can survive if this condition is diagnosed and treated early. Hydrocephalus is a serious condition and can be fatal if it is not diagnosed and treated early. According to reports, 50% of patients who did not get their hydrocephalus treated die from it while the other half live the rest of their lives with a condition called arrested hydrocephalus.

If left untreated, several serious complications can arise from this condition like physical disabilities and serious brain damage. Studies show that infants who have had surgical treatment to treat this birth defect often have a full life span. [8]

How does a baby get hydrocephalus?

A baby can get hydrocephalus while still in the womb. This condition either occurs during pregnancy or later on due to other casualties. This birth defect, like other birth defects, can be inherited. It can also be due to the flow of the cerebral spinal fluid being blocked.

Hydrocephalus can be caused by an abnormal circulation of the cerebral spinal fluid which can cause inadequate absorption by the membranes that cover the brain. It is normal for cerebral spinal fluid production to increase late in gestation. The ventricles and head size are normally monitored to determine if everything is fine.

The presence of ventriculomegaly might be an indication of the presence of another anomaly. Studies show that 50 to 80% of babies with this birth defect can have another anomaly with or outside the central nervous system. [9]

What happens when a baby has hydrocephalus?

When a baby has hydrocephalus, the impact can be unpredictable and can vary in severity since this condition injures the brain. Babies with this birth defect can have epilepsy, short-term memory loss, vision problems, and learning disabilities. Babies with this condition can also have problems with coordination and go through the early onset of puberty.

Studies show that babies with hydrocephalus can be fussy, tired, and even have a poor appetite. Babies with this condition can also frequently vomit and have eyes that stay looking down. They can also show signs of slow development.

Babies with this birth defect can have an increased head size and large scalp veins due to their soft scalp and the extra cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) around the brain that causes the bones in the baby’s skull to expand and separate. [10]

What are hydrocephalus treatment options for babies?

The hydrocephalus treatment options for babies are with surgery where the goal of treatment is to reduce the pressure inside the baby’s head by draining the fluid. Shunt surgery is a thin tube implanted in the brain so the excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) can flow to another part of the body which in most cases is the tummy.

(Benjamin Warf, MD, Neurosurgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, explains hydrocephalus and options for treating it, including an innovate operation he pioneered called endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV). )

The shunt includes a valve to control the CSF flow to prevent it from draining too quickly.

Shunt surgery is carried out by a brain specialist and a neurosurgeon. It takes one to two hours for the shunt to be installed.

Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy (ETV) is another treatment option for this birth defect. ETV is the treatment option for this condition if the CSF buildup in the brain is caused by a blockage, also known as obstructive hydrocephalus. A hole is made in the floor of the brain to enable the trapped CSF to release to the brain’s surface to avoid blockage. [11]

What is the life expectancy of hydrocephalus in babies and children?

The life expectancy of hydrocephalus in in babies and children is a full life span if this condition is caught early and treated. Infants who undergo surgical treatment at an early age will not have a shortened life expectancy due to this birth defect.

Studies show that the survival rate in patients with untreated hydrocephalus is poor. It has been reported that 50% of patients with untreated hydrocephalus die before three years. It has also been reported that 80% of patients with this condition untreated die before reaching adulthood.

If left untreated, this condition can prove to be fatal. But if diagnosed and treated early, most patients can lead long and problem-free lives. [12]

Can hydrocephalus in babies and children be treated with medication?

Hydrocephalus in babies and children can be treated with medication but in most cases of this condition surgical intervention is required for a more effective result. There are cases where doctors have found that resolving the underlying condition can help resolve hydrocephalus.

In cases where there are tumors and infections, medication is often prescribed to treat the condition but if it’s not effective then surgical intervention is the next recommended step. [13]

Is a hydrocephalus shunt permanent?

A hydrocephalus shunt can be permanent but there are cases where the ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunts malfunctioned and are required to be repaired or replaced. Reports show that a VP shunt is not equipped to work forever as sooner or later, it may require to be repaired or replaced with additional surgeries.

In general, a VP shunt is safe but there are still some risks after the surgery, such as malfunctions and infections. If a VP shunt malfunctions, the patient is at risk of having another buildup of fluid in the brain. When a VP shunt malfunctions, the patient needs to go through another surgery to get it fixed and treated.

One of the reasons why a VP shunt can’t be permanent is even with all the necessary care, the shunt can get worn out or even move in the brain as the patient grows. Other than the risk of getting worn out, a shunt can also get infected. [14]

How serious is hydrocephalus shunt surgery?

Hydrocephalus shunt surgery is not serious if this condition is diagnosed early and treatment is carried out promptly. A hydrocephalus shunt surgery can only be serious if there’s shunt blockage and infection.

A shunt blockage can lead to a build-up of excess fluid which can then cause brain damage and other symptoms of hydrocephalus. A shunt blockage requires emergency surgery to replace the malfunctioning shunt.

Other than shunt blockage, a shunt infection is considered a common complication occurring after shunt surgery. The risk of shunt infection is higher in children than in adults. Studies show that shunt infection is most likely going to develop within the first few months after the shunt surgery. [15]

These are the most popular questions on Hydrocephalus in Babies and Children that have been recently asked online. If something is missing here or any questions you may have about this condition in the brain, do not hesitate to contact us.



  1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, September 3). Hydrocephalus. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hydrocephalus/symptoms-causes/syc-20373604
  2. Hydrocephalus. AANS. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Hydrocephalus
  3. Different types of hydrocephalus. Advanced Neurosurgery Associates. (2021, September 7). Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://ana-neurosurgery.com/hydrocephalus/different-types/
  4. Obstructive hydrocephalus. Obstructive Hydrocephalus – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/obstructive-hydrocephalus
  5. Stephen L Nelson, J. (2022, February 2). Hydrocephalus. Practice Essentials, Background, Pathophysiology. Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1135286-overview
  6. Advanced Neurosurgery Associates, & Advanced Neurosurgery AssociatesANA is a team of expert neurosurgeons and medical professionals. (2021, October 7). Living with hydrocephalus: An independent life: Ana. Advanced Neurosurgery Associates. Retrieved July 16, 2022, from https://ana-neurosurgery.com/living-with-hydrocephalus/
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Hydrocephalus fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/hydrocephalus-fact-sheet.
  8. Hydrocephalus faqs. UCLA Health System. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://www.uclahealth.org/medical-services/pediatric-neurosurgery/conditions-treatment/pediatric-hydrocephalus-program/hydrocephalus-faqs.
  9. Hydrocephalus. Infant complications hydrocephalus | Children’s Wisconsin. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://childrenswi.org/medical-care/fetal-concerns-center/conditions/infant-complications/hydrocephalus
  10. Fetal hydrocephalus: Causes, diagnosis & treatment. SSM Health. (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://www.ssmhealth.com/cardinal-glennon/fetal-care-institute/head-spine/hydrocephalus
  11. NHS. (n.d.). Treatment -Hydrocephalus. NHS choices. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hydrocephalus/treatment/
  12. Divya Jacob, P. D. (2020, October 27). What is the survival rate of hydrocephalus? MedicineNet. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.medicinenet.com/what_is_the_survival_rate_of_hydrocephalus/article.htm
  13. Jacqueline Groat, P. D. C. W. S. U. C. of P. S. (2013, March 20). Review of the treatment & management of hydrocephalus. U.S. Pharmacist – The Leading Journal in Pharmacy. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/review-of-the-treatment-management-of-hydrocephalus.
  14. Jr., J. H. P. (Ed.). (2019, September). VP shunts (for parents) – nemours kidshealth. KidsHealth. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/vp-shunts.html.
  15. NHS. (n.d.). Complications -Hydrocephalus. NHS choices. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hydrocephalus/complications.


Old References

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  2. Massim L, Paternoster G,Fasano T, et al. On the changing epidemiology of hydrocephalus. Childs Nerv Syst 2009 ;25(7):795-800.
  3. Campiche PR, Oberson R, Assal G, Zander E. [Cause and treatment of hydrocephalus in newborns and infants]. Schweiz Arch Neurol Neurochir Psychiatr 1975;116(1):29-39.
  4. Mori K, Shimada J, Kurisaka M, Sato K, Watanabe K. Classification of hydrocephalus and outcome of treatment. Brain Dev 1995;17(5):338-48.
  5. Kirkpatrick M, Engleman H, Minns RA. Symptoms and signs of progressive hydrocephalus. Arch Dis Child 1989 Jan;64(1):124-8.
  6. Yamasaki M, Nonaka M, Bamba Y, et al. Diagnosis, treatment, and long-term outcomes of fetal hydrocephalus. Semen Fetal Neonatal Med 2012 Dec;17(6):330-5.
  7. Bajpai M,Kataria R, Bhatnagar V, et al. Management of hydrocephalus. Indian J Pediater 1997;64(6 Suppl):48-56.

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