Babies born with hydrocephalus have a defect in the brain that prevents normal draining of the cerebrospinal fluid. The higher pressure created inside the skull often gives babies distinctive physical features at birth.
Congenital hydrocephalus is sometimes found before a baby is born during an ultrasound scan. However, it’s usually diagnosed soon after birth during the newborn’s physical examination. The condition may be suspected if the baby’s head is larger than normal.
In infants, the skull bones are not completely formed and sutures (or joints between the bones of the skull) are not closed, so the increased amount of fluid may cause the skull to increase in size. This is a visual sign of hydrocephalus, but is only noticeable in infants and newborns.
Visual signs can include:
- An unusually large head – the reason why family doctors measure babies’ head circumference regularly
- A thin and shiny scalp with easily visible veins
- A bulging or tense fontanelle – the soft spot on top of a baby’s head
- Downward-looking eyes
Usually, hydrocephalus causes the ventricles of the brain to enlarge due to increased CSF and pressure within the skull. This can cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, failing mental function, blurred vision, and loss of coordination. If these symptoms occur, a doctor will perform several tests to conﬁrm if hydrocephalus exists.
Typical symptoms can include:
- Poor feeding
- Muscle stiffness and spasms in the lower limbs
And also look out for:
- Deterioration in conscious level
- Poor coordination
- Behavioural changes and visual deterioration