Conditions + Treatments

Hydrocephalus in Children | Overview

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What is hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus — also called “water on the brain” — is a term used to describe several different problems that cause fluid to build up in or around the brain or to drain improperly.

This can happen if:

  • a blockage stops the fluid from flowing as it should
  • the bloodstream cannot reabsorb the fluid
  • the brain produces too much of this fluid

Excess fluid is a problem because it creates too much pressure inside the skull. If this pressure isn’t relieved, it can damage tissues in brain.

Hydrocephalus is often congenital, meaning babies are born with it, but older children can also develop it. In some cases, hydrocephalus can develop as a complication of another condition.

Over time, hydrocephalus gets worse if it’s not treated. The most common treatment involves placing a shunt (a small tube) in the brain to drain the fluid to another part of the body. Some children may also be able to have surgery — either endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) or combined endoscopic third ventriculostomy/choroid plexus cauterization (ETV/CPC) — to treat the condition.

Care for hydrocephalus

The Boston Children's Hospital Hydrocephalus Program has been treating children with hydrocephalus for decades. Boston Children's was the first hospital in the world to treat children with hydrocephalus with shunts.

In the years since, our clinicians have also pioneered and refined the use of minimally-invasive surgical techniques — including endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) and combined endoscopic third ventriculostomy/choroid plexus cauterization (ETV/CPC) — to more effectively treat hydrocephalus while reducing the risk of complications. 

Hydrocephalus: Reviewed by Benjamin Warf, MD
Boston Children’s Hospital; posted in 2011

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- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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