Hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain,” is a medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain. This can cause increased intracranial pressure inside the skull and progressive enlargement of the head, convulsion, tunnel vision, mental disability, and death. The diagnosis of cerebrospinal fluid buildup is complex and requires specialist expertise.
Symptoms of increased intracranial pressure may include headaches, vomiting, nausea, papilledema, sleepiness or coma. Elevated intracranial pressure may result in life-threatening brain stem compression.
In infants with hydrocephalus, CSF builds up in the central nervous system, causing the fontanelle (soft spot) to bulge and the head to be larger than expected. Early symptoms for an infant with hydrocephalus may include:
- Eyes that appear to gaze downward
- Separated sutures
Symptoms that may occur in older children can include:
- Brief, shrill, high-pitched cry
- Changes in personality, memory, or the ability to reason or think
- Changes in facial appearance and eye spacing
- Crossed eyes or uncontrolled eye movements
- Difficulty feeding
- Excessive sleepiness
- Irritability, poor temper control
- Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence)
- Loss of coordination and trouble walking
- Muscle spasticity (spasm)
- Slow growth (child 0–5 years)
- Slow or restricted movement
Hydrocephalus treatment is surgical, generally creating various types of cerebral shunts. It involves the placement of a ventricular catheter (a tube) into the cerebral ventricles to drain the excess fluid into other body cavities, where it can be resorbed. Most shunts drain the fluid into the peritoneal cavity, but alternative sites include the right atrium, pleural cavity, and gallbladder. A shunt system can also be placed in the lumbar space of the spine and have the CSF redirected to the peritoneal cavity.
Examples of possible complications include shunt malfunction, shunt failure, and shunt infection, along with infection of the shunt tract following surgery (the most common reason for shunt failure is infection of the shunt tract). Although a shunt generally works well, it may stop working if it disconnects, becomes blocked (clogged), infected, or it is outgrown. If this happens the cerebrospinal fluid will begin to accumulate again and a number of physical symptoms will develop, such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, and even seizures. The shunt failure rate is also relatively high (of the 40,000 surgeries performed annually to treat hydrocephalus, only 30% are a patient’s first surgery), and it is not uncommon for patients to have multiple shunt revisions within their lifetime.
If a loved one of yours is a victim of malpractice related to hydrocephalus, please contact our office and speak with a member of the firm. The applicable statute of limitations is likely already running, so timing can be critically important to your case. Contact us today for a free, no obligation, confidential legal consultation.
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