How can hydrocephalus be treated?

6 Min Read

Hydrocephalous can be a serious life-threatening condition and it is crucial for it to be diagnosed early so effective treatment can be provided. Sadly, there are often occasions when doctors and nurses should have considered or diagnosed hydrocephalous sooner and only a short delay can have significant consequences.

However, when it is diagnosed, there are treatments that can be provided. This article explains what those are, and what to expect. We also explain how bringing a claim can help with treatment and future costs if an injury could sadly have been prevented.

What is hydrocephalous?

CSF stands for Cerebrospinal fluid which is a watery liquid that surrounds the spinal cord and brain. Hydrocephalous occurs when either too much CSF is produced, or when the CSF is stopped from circulating properly and being reabsorbed. The build up of CSF can be dangerous, as it can result in increased pressure on the brain.

Hydrocephalous can be present at birth (congenital) but can also be caused by injury and illness (acquired) which can affect both children and adults. It is diagnosed by scanning the brain. This is usually through a combination of CT and MRI scans. It is often suspected in infants if there is increasing head circumference.

Treatment for hydrocephalous

It is vital that hydrocephalous is treated promptly. If not, then there will be a continued build up of increased pressure on the brain which could lead to long term injury. Both congenital and acquired hydrocephalous are treated by either shunt surgery or neuroendoscopy.

Shunt Surgery

Shunt surgery is performed by a doctor who specialises in the brain and nervous system (neurosurgeon). A thin tube known as a shunt, is implanted into the brain and connected to another part of the body, usually the tummy, where the CSF can flow through and be absorbed back into the body.

A valve is used to control the flow of CSF so that it is not drained too quickly. The valve is often located under the skin on the scalp. The surgery itself should take around 1 – 2 hours and it is likely a hospital stay of a few days will be required to recover and be monitored.

Following the surgery there is risk of infection, although if this occurs it is most likely to take place within 3 months from surgery. Symptoms can include:

  • Headache and irritability
  • A high temperature (over 37 degrees Celsius)
  • Not feeding well
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness

It is important to seek advice if this occurs. Antibiotics will be prescribed and the shunt may be removed on a temporary basis while the infection clears up.
Once a shunt has been inserted, there will need to be ongoing monitoring in case the shunt becomes blocked or infected. If this occurs, then shunt repair surgery will be required.

Further, if a shunt is inserted in a child, then as the child grows a replacement will be required.

Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV)

This is an alternative to shunt surgery and involves the neurosurgeon making a hole in the floor of the brain to allow trapped CSF to come out through the surface of the brain where it can be absorbed.

This treatment may not be appropriate for all but could be used if the build up of CSF is caused by a blockage.

This procedure is also performed under general anaesthetic and uses an endoscope which is a long thin tube which has a camera on the end. A small hole is created in the skull and the endoscope is inserted to look into the chamber of the brain. A further hole is then created in the floor of the brain where the fluid can drain out. Once the fluid is drained out, the endoscope gets removed.

With this procedure there is also potential for a blockage to occur and this remains a long term risk. if this occurs, then the symptoms are likely to return and further treatment required.

Long term effects and how a legal claim can help

Hydrocephalous can affect the development of the brain and impact on cognition. As a result, this can mean that the child or adult will require a greater level of care and support. Sometimes brain injury as a result of hydrocephalous is unpreventable, but sadly there are some occasions where injury could have been avoided with earlier or better treatment.

If a legal claim is successful, it will allow you to access private treatment. This may be in respect of future surgery that is required, but also in respect of any therapies that are needed due to any long-term effects of a brain injury. This could include speech and language, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, psychological therapy amongst others. A successful claim can also provide funds so that professional care can be put in place to support the family. It is recognised that when a family member is injured, it affects loved ones as well. In some circumstances, if the family home is not suitable for the injured person’s needs, then costs for adaptations or an alternative property can also be claimed.

Can I make a negligence claim for injuries related to hydrocephalous?

Yes you can. Sadly, we help many children and adults who have suffered a brain injury as a result of a delay in diagnosis and/or treatment from hydrocephalous.
Even a short delay can make a real difference to the severity of the injuries. We have a team of specialist hydrocephalous lawyers who can help find answers to questions you may have about your treatment or the treatment of loved ones and advise you as to whether you can make a claim for compensation. We work closely with the charity Shine that specialises in providing advice and support to families with children with hydrocephalus and spina bifida. The charity provides hands on support to families through a number of dedicated service teams that can help families get one to one support on issues ranging from health concerns, accessing education support, early intervention all the way to benefit applications and appeals. We have witnessed the value of their work first hand as many of our clients have benefited from their services. We are also proud to be recognised as a specialist firm providing advice to Shine families through their dedicated panel of legal advisors. To find out more about the charity and the great work they do visit Shine – Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus (shinecharity.org.uk)

CLaire Leslie

Claire Leslie

Legal Director View Profile >