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Hydrocephalus in Children

What is pediatric hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus occurs when some type of blockage causes cerebrospinal fluid to accumulate in a child’s brain. Cerebrospinal fluid cushions the brain from injury and contains nutrients important for brain function. When it can’t circulate properly or be reabsorbed into the blood stream, it builds up in the ventricles, causing enlargement and pressure inside the head. About 1 or 2 in every 1,000 babies in the U.S. are born with hydrocephalus, but it can also develop later in life. UTHealth Houston Neurosciences will diagnose and resolve hydrocephalus quickly and effectively to avoid damage to the brain.

Causes of hydrocephalus in children

Hydrocephalus occurs when the route of the fluid to drain is blocked by either debris from bleeding or an infection or because the opening to the ventricular system is too narrow. When a child is born with hydrocephalus, it may be linked to a genetic issue or a complication of spinal bifida or encephaloceles. Children might develop hydrocephalus after birth because of an intraventricular hemorrhage, meningitis, a brain tumor, a spinal cord injury, or a head injury.

Signs of hydrocephalus in children

Infants with hydrocephalus may have unusually large heads that increase rapidly in size. The pressure on the brain might cause frequent vomiting, seizures, and excessive sleepiness. Children may have headaches, blurred vision, and coordination problems. They might be delayed in reaching their developmental milestones and may experience sudden personality changes.

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A fetal ultrasound might detect hydrocephalus in the third trimester of pregnancy. If it suspected in a baby or child, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and take a detailed family history. Imaging studies, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, and intracranial pressure monitoring, may also be used to diagnose hydrocephalus and to monitor its progression.



Hydrocephalus is the most common reason for brain surgery in children. It is typically corrected with the placement of a shunt, or a small silicone tube, that allows cerebrospinal fluid to bypass the blockage. Certain types of hydrocephalus can be treated with endoscopic third ventriculostomy, where surgeons make a tiny hole in the ventricles to restore normal flow. The minimally invasive procedure often has fewer complications and a faster recovery but isn’t an option for all hydrocephalus patients.

Clinical Trials

Reversing Inflammatory Macrophage Activation As Treatment For Neonatal Intraventricular Hemorrhage And Hydrocephalus
Brandon A. Miller, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Pediatric Surgery and Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston

Children born prematurely are at risk for intraventricular hemorrhage, a condition in which fragile blood vessels in the developing brain bleed and release blood directly into the brain tissue and fluid within the brain. This causes injury to the brain and accumulation of fluid within the brain (hydrocephalus), which often requires surgical treatment.

This laboratory study, funded by a K08 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, will determine if azithromycin, a clinically safe drug for neonates, can reduce inflammation and brain injury after intraventricular hemorrhage. The long-term goal of this project is to develop nonsurgical treatments for intraventricular hemorrhage and hydrocephalus.

Dynamic Near-Infrared Fluorescence Imaging Of CSF Outflow: A Tool To Manage Pediatric Hydrocephalus
Manish N. Shah, MD
Associate Professor,
Department of Pediatric Surgery and Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery
William J. Devane Distinguished Professorship
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston
Director, Texas Comprehensive Spasticity Center, UT Physicians Pediatric Surgery
Eva Sevick-Muraca, PhD
Professor and Nancy and Rich Kinder Distinguished Chair of Cardiovascular Disease Research
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston
Director, Center for Molecular Imaging

Funded by an R21 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the coprincipal investigators, along with collaborator Banghe Zhu, PhD, will assess fluorescence-based cerebrospinal fluid flow in an animal model using their whole-brain optical imaging technology: capbased transcranial optical tomography. CTOT is the first wearable, high-resolution, whole-brain functional imaging device that does not require infants to be put under anesthesia.

Using night-vision goggle technology, near-infrared light, and high-resolution detectors, CTOT helps physicians accurately
diagnose the severity of an infant’s brain injury and prescribe treatment that will optimize quality of life throughout childhood.

To get more information about these trials, please fill out the short online form here.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

Our dedicated team uses advanced technology to accurately diagnose and treat neurological diseases and conditions impacting babies and children. We work in multidisciplinary teams of specialists and pediatric neurosurgeons who share insights, leading to better treatment decision-making and outcomes, as well as lower costs and time savings. Throughout treatment, we will work closely with the doctor who referred your family to ensure a smooth transition back to your child’s regular care. While your family is with us, they will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.