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Cerebrospinal fluid cushions and protects the brain and spinal cord. Unborn babies with hydrocephalus produce more of this fluid than the brain’s ventricles, or cavities, can absorb. Fluid buildup in the ventricles creates pressure inside the head. 

Hydrocephalus is sometimes referred to as “water on the brain.”

Hydrocephalus Treatment: Why Choose Us?

Pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons at St. Louis Children’s Hospital are ranked among the best in the nation. With specialization in hydrocephalus, our team has unparalleled expertise and resources to provide exceptional care for babies with hydrocephalus.

About Hydrocephalus

Approximately 2 out of every 1,000 newborns are born with hydrocephalus, making it one of the most common fetal conditions. 

Some children with severe hydrocephalus, or hydrocephalus and other birth defects, experience developmental and physical delays.

Causes of Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus occurs when the ventricular system is blocked or narrowed. Sometimes, the brain doesn’t develop normally and the ventricles are bigger than they should be.

Hydrocephalus is sometimes linked to chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome or trisomy 18. Our genetic counselors can provide more information about these genetic links. 

Other potential causes of hydrocephalus include:

  • Congenital brain malformations 
  • Infection
  • Brain cysts or tumors
  • Hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain
  • Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida

Diagnosing Hydrocephalus

Ultrasound and maternal-fetal medicine experts at the Fetal Care Center diagnose hydrocephalus in unborn babies using the latest ultrasound technology. We perform thousands of obstetrical and gynecological tests every year. This high volume has made us skilled at detecting fetal problems early in a pregnancy. 

Your doctor may order additional tests, including:

  • Genetic amniocentesis: Your doctor tests amniotic fluid to check for chromosomal abnormalities.
  • Fetal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This safe imaging procedure uses a magnetic field (not radiation) to provide detailed information about your unborn baby’s brain development.

Learn more about high-risk pregnancy tests.

Treating Hydrocephalus

Throughout pregnancy, you undergo regular ultrasounds with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist to check the development of your unborn baby. We recommend delivering at a hospital equipped to care for a high-risk pregnancy, such as the Women & Infants Center. If your baby’s head is enlarged due to hydrocephalus, you may need to deliver via cesarean section. 

After delivery, your baby may receive advanced medical care in our Level IV newborn intensive care unit (NICU). Our focus is on keeping mom and baby together, which is why our NICU is connected to labor and delivery. 

Pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons at St. Louis Children’s Hospital provide treatment and ongoing care for children with hydrocephalus. If surgery is needed to drain excess fluid from the brain, treatment options include:

  • Ventricular shunt: Your doctor inserts a hollow tube, or shunt, into the brain’s ventricular space. The shunt drains excess cerebrospinal fluid into the abdominal cavity, where the body absorbs it.
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV): Using a camera called an endoscope to view the brain, your doctor makes a tiny hole in the floor of the third ventricle. Excess fluid flows through the hole, relieving pressure on the brain.  

Learn more about hydrocephalus at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. 

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University fetal care specialist at the Women & Infants Center, call 855.925.0631.