What Is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is a condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid builds up the ventricles, which are fluid filled cavities in the brain.  This extra fluid causes pressure on the brain, an enlarged head, and possible brain damage.

Cerebrospinal fluid is important for normal brain function. It absorbs into the brain to provide the brain nutrients it needs to function normally. It also cushions the brain and maintains the necessary chemical environment.

Symptoms of Hydrocephalus

If an infant has symptoms which cause a neurosurgeon to believe the patient has hydrocephalus, such as an enlarged head at birth, a CT scan and MRI of the brain will be ordered. These scans will show the size and shape of the ventricles. Older children may experience symptoms such as headache, impaired vision, cognitive difficulties, loss of coordination, and incontinence.

Treatment of Hydrocephalus

A neurosurgeon may recommend a shunt to treat hydrocephalus. A shunt is a flexible but sturdy plastic tube which is surgically inserted to drain excess fluid. The shunt  system usually consists of the shunt tubing, catheter and a valve. One end of the catheter is placed inside the brain or just outside the spinal cord for a lumbar shunt.  The shunt tubing is most commonly passed under the skin to the abdomen where the other end of the catheter is placed. Sometimes the tubing is placed into one of the chambers of the heart or lining of the lungs. The valve is located along the catheter and maintains one-way flow to regulate the fluid flow rate. The shunt tubing drains the extra fluid on the brain to a different part of the body where it is absorbed more quickly, thereby lowering cerebrospinal fluid pressure.

For more information on Hydrocephalus & Pediatric Shunts download the PDF below.




This page is intended to be educational, but does not take the place of your physician or surgeon’s advice for your specific procedure or treatment. You should always consult with your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

Call Michigan Head & Spine Institute at 248-784-3667.


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