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Fetal Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain,” is a condition associated with a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in or around the brain. If left untreated, this can lead to brain tissue stretching, significantly affecting your child’s growth and development.

water on brain shows extra fluid around the brain

This graphic shows a baby with a build up of fluid in the cavities around the brain.

The SSM Health Cardinal Glennon St. Louis Fetal Care Institute has one of the most experienced teams in the country for treating hydrocephalus. We are uniquely trained to diagnose this condition even before a baby is born, and are able treat newborns using minimally-invasive surgical techniques.

Our team of pediatric specialists, neurosurgeons, and nurses follow the most advanced protocols to treat this condition, giving your baby the best possible care and start in life.
What Causes Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is often congenital, meaning babies are born with it, but infants and children can develop it as well. There is no one specific cause of congenital hydrocephalus. However, it may be linked to a genetic defect, or be the result of another disorder such as spina bifida or encephalocele (sac-like protrusions of the brain).

How is Hydrocephalus Diagnosed During Pregnancy?

Hydrocephalus is typically detected through a prenatal ultrasound between 15 and 35 weeks gestation. Our specialists are able to confirm this diagnosis with a fetal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam, which provides more detailed images of the brain.

How is Hydrocephalus Managed & Treated During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, hydrocephalus is usually managed with observation. At this time, there is no fetal treatment for this disorder. If your baby has been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, our team will carefully watch them for signs of distress, which may indicate a need for early delivery.

After birth, hydrocephalus is treated with one of three surgical options:

  • Fetal shunt: device that allows the pressure in the brain to normalize by draining the fluid into the abdominal cavity, where the fluid can be reabsorbed
  • Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV): minimally-invasive procedure that creates an opening in the floor of the third ventricle in the brain, allowing fluid to flow into its normal pathway
  • Combined endoscopic third ventriculostomy/choroid plexus cauterization (ETV/CPC): used as the primary treatment for most infants with hydrocephalus. ETV/CPC is known to reduce the rate of cerebrospinal fluid production and provide a new pathway for the fluid to escape

How Does Hydrocephalus Affect My Baby After Delivery?

The impact of hydrocephalus on a newborn is somewhat unpredictable and can vary in severity. Because it injures the brain, children with hydrocephalus may have epilepsy, learning disabilities, short-term memory loss, problems with coordination, vision problems, and early onset of puberty.

As a result, children with this condition often benefit from developmental therapy, such as physical therapy and occupational therapy. In milder cases, or instances where treatment was previously possible, a baby with hydrocephalus may develop completely normally.

We understand that hydrocephalus can be a scary diagnosis. That’s why we’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While we can’t change the diagnosis, we can provide the care and compassion you seek, helping your child get the most out of treatment and life.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us at 314-268-4037 or toll free at 877-SSM-FETL (877-776-3385). You can also email us and one of our trusted representatives will get back to you as soon as possible.

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