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Congenital Hydrocephalus - Topic Overview

What is congenital hydrocephalus?

Congenital hydrocephalus is a buildup of excess cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain at birth. The extra fluid can increase pressure in the baby's brain camera.gif, causing brain damage and mental and physical problems. This condition is rare.

Finding the condition early and treating it quickly can help limit any long-term problems. But long-term effects mostly depend on what caused the fluid buildup, how bad it gets, and how the baby responds to treatment.

When hydrocephalus doesn't occur until later in life, it is called acquired hydrocephalus. This topic focuses on hydrocephalus that is present at birth (congenital).

What causes congenital hydrocephalus?

This condition is caused by an imbalance between how much fluid the brain makes and how well the body is able to process it.

Normally, fluid flows through and out of chambers of the brain called ventricles, and then around the brain and spinal cord. The fluid is then absorbed by the thin tissue around the brain and spinal cord. But with hydrocephalus, the fluid can't move where it needs to or is not absorbed as it should be. And in rare cases the brain makes too much fluid.

Congenital hydrocephalus may happen because of:

What are the symptoms?

The clearest symptom of hydrocephalus is a head that is larger than normal. You and your doctor may notice it when the baby is born or within the first several months of life. It's normal for a baby's head to grow a lot during the first year. But with congenital hydrocephalus, the head may grow faster than the normal rate for a baby's height and weight.

The condition may cause the soft spot (fontanelle) on your baby’s head to feel firm or bulge out. Also, the areas between the skull bones (sutures camera.gif) may be larger than normal.

If pressure builds in the brain, your baby may:

  • Be irritable.
  • Sleep too much.
  • Vomit.
  • Eat very little.
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