Hydrocephalus Introduction

Hydrocephalus is the enlargement of the intracranial cavity caused by the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricular system. This results from an imbalance in the production and absorption of the fluid which causes an increase in intracranial pressure as the fluid builds up. Fluid may accumulate as a result of blockage of the flow (noncommunicating hydrocephalus) or impaired absorption (communicating hydrocephalus). As the head enlarges to an abnormal size, the infant experiences lethargy, changes in level of consciousness, lower extremity spasticity and opisthotonos and, if the hydrocephalus is allowed to progress, the infant experiences difficulty in sucking and feeding, emesis, seizures, sunset eyes, and cardiopulmonary complications as lower brain stem and cortical function are disrupted or destroyed. In the child, increased intracranial pressure (ICP) focal manifestations are experienced related to space-occupying focal lesions and include headache, emesis, ataxia, irritability, lethargy, and confusion. Treatment may include surgery to provide shunting for drainage of the excess fluid from the ventricles to an extracranial space such as the peritoneum or right atrium (in older children) or management with medications to reduce IC if progression is slow or surgery is contraindicated.

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