The brain contains hollow areas known as ventricles. Cerebrospinal fluid, a type of saltwater, forms in these ventricles. It protects the brain and spinal cord while bringing nutrients to the brain and removing waste. Over time, this fluid is absorbed into the bloodstream, and new fluid is formed in the ventricles. Sometimes too much cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the ventricles, causing a condition known as hydrocephalus. This arises when the bloodstream does not absorb enough fluid (communicating hydrocephalus) or when an obstruction blocks its flow (obstructive hydrocephalus).
Some children develop hydrocephalus after birth, which is known as acquired hydrocephalus. On the other hand, babies are often born with this condition, which is known as congenital hydrocephalus. Infections, brain tumors, bleeding in the brain, and a birth defect in the spinal cord known as spina bifida may result in hydrocephalus. In addition, a condition known as aqueductal stenosis can cause obstructive hydrocephalus. Children who undergo a premature birth may face a higher risk of hydrocephalus.
Symptoms of Hydrocephalus
During their first year of life, a child does not have a fully formed skull. This results in a soft spot, where a bulge may appear if hydrocephalus develops. Pressure from cerebrospinal fluid also may enlarge the veins in their scalp and even enlarge their head overall. In addition, a child suffering from hydrocephalus may be irritable, easily fatigued, and reluctant to eat or prone to vomiting. They may feel more comfortable lowering their eyes to relieve the pressure.
Tests to Diagnose Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus may be diagnosed through a physical exam and imaging tests. Doctors may use MRIs and CT scans to examine the interior of the child’s brain. Ultrasounds also can reveal excess fluid in the ventricles.
Treatment for Hydrocephalus
A child with hydrocephalus usually will need surgeries to manage the condition. Surgeries may relieve the pressure on the brain by reducing the cerebrospinal fluid inside the ventricles. There are two main types of hydrocephalus surgeries:
Endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV): By creating an opening at the bottom of the ventricle, a surgeon can allow the excess cerebrospinal fluid to exit the brain into the bloodstream.
Ventriculoperitoneal shunt: This is a complex procedure that involves adding a tube under the skin connecting the ventricles to the peritoneal cavity. (This is the site of the stomach and other digestive organs.) Excess cerebrospinal fluid can travel through this tube to the peritoneal cavity, where it can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
A child who receives a ventriculoperitoneal shunt may need the shunt to be replaced later. Some shunts become infected or stop working for other reasons, while other shunts are too small to meet the needs of a growing child.
In addition to surgery, a child who has experienced developmental delays due to hydrocephalus may benefit from physical and occupational therapy. A doctor also may prescribe medications to relieve their symptoms.
Medical Malpractice Claims Arising From Hydrocephalus
When it is promptly diagnosed, hydrocephalus may be managed effectively, even though it cannot be cured. Unfortunately, some doctors do not recognize hydrocephalus when they should, or they may not treat the condition competently. This can lead to permanent brain damage that alters the lives of a child and their parents. In other cases, hydrocephalus arises due to medical errors during childbirth, such as the improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors, or a failure to perform a C-section when this would have been appropriate.
To recover compensation for medical malpractice, a parent will need to show that the physician whom they are suing did not meet the professional standard of care. This may mean that they did something that a competent physician in their specialty would not have done, or they may have failed to do something that a competent physician would have done. Birth injury cases tend to be complex, and vast amounts of money may be at stake. Rather than pursuing a claim on their own, parents should consult an experienced birth injury attorney. They can retain medical experts to testify for the child and meet any procedural requirements that apply in their state.
Compensation in Hydrocephalus Cases
Compensation for injuries in hydrocephalus claims may include the cost of surgeries, therapies, and medications. A child also may receive compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the medical malpractice. If undiagnosed or untreated hydrocephalus causes permanent disabilities, damages may cover future costs and losses as well.