Hydrocephalus, Brain Damage, and Your Next Steps Forward

Helping families whose lives have been turned upside by a birth injury or defect

When the cerebrospinal fluid – the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord – increases to an abnormal level, a condition called hydrocephalus, otherwise known as “water on the brain” can occur. This excessive level of cerebrospinal fluid can cause the open spaces between the brain – referred to as ventricles – to grow in size and create pressure on brain tissue, leading to its damage and even destruction. If left untreated, hydrocephalus can lead to other severe health issues, and in the worst cases, death.

Hydrocephalus can exist at birth or develop after birth from a head injury or disease. When hydrocephalus is congenital, the reason may be due to factors affecting the development of the fetus or an inherited genetic defect.

A child with hydrocephalus can experience delays in development and intellectual disabilities, as well as cerebral palsy, and seizures.

Symptoms of hydrocephalus

The buildup of fluid can occur within days when a birth injury causes hydrocephalus. Babies can experience symptoms including swelling or puffiness around the temples, eyes, and bridge of the nose. Another notable symptom of hydrocephalus in a baby is an enlarged head. When the baby’s head grows rapidly, it can be a sign of elevated intracranial pressure – a common symptom of hydrocephalus. The head grows in order to decrease the pressure on the brain. If the cerebellum is compressed excessively, the baby may experience difficulty breathing, speaking, and swallowing. If hydrocephalus is left untreated, the baby’s brain stem can experience severe compression resulting in the shutting down of the baby’s breathing or heart.

Hydrocephalus symptoms vary based on particular factors including:

  • Cause of the excessive amount of cerebrospinal fluid
  • The individuals level of tolerance to increased cerebrospinal fluid
  • The age of the person (child or adult)

Both children and adults with hydrocephalus may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Incontinence
  • Vision and balance problems
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in personality
  • Fatigue

Children may experience developmental delays

Infants have greater capacity to adjust the cerebrospinal fluid levels due to the flexibility of their skull. This flexibility allows the skull to expand quickly when congenital hydrocephalus is present. Symptoms of hydrocephalus in infants can include:

  • Fussiness
  • Drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Downward pointing eyes

Causes of hydrocephalus

One or more intraventricular hemorrhages can cause a lack of oxygen supply to the baby’s brain (hypoxia) or other type of infant birth injury. This hemorrhaging can result in disruption to the dynamics of the cerebrospinal fluid, leading to the swelling of the ventricles.

Dilation of the ventricles (referred to as hydrocephalus) can cause brain damage in various ways including:

  • Damage to the brain’s blood vessels
  • Poor development of the cerebral cortex
  • Destruction of the brain’s white matter

White matter in the brain assists in the transmission of messages throughout the major portion of the brain. The outer layer of neural tissue in the brain is gray matter and referred to as the cerebral cortex. It plays a vital role in memory, attention, language and consciousness, thinking, and perceptual awareness. Damage occurring to gray and white matter of the brain in a child can cause medical issues such as developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, motor problems, and cerebral palsy. Newborns may experience seizures that continue throughout life.

Additional causes of hydrocephalus include:

  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Brain infections (i.e., viral infections or meningitis)
  • Germinal matrix hemorrhage (occurring mostly in premature infants)
  • Intrauterine infections (i.e., toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, and syphilis)

Diagnosis of hydrocephalus

If a baby’s head is larger than normal at birth or if measurements of the head circumference indicate excessive growth after birth, hydrocephalus may be suspected. Babies who experienced premature or traumatic birth should be frequently measured for head size. Hydrocephalus may also be suspected in babies having elevated intracranial pressure.

Hydrocephalus can be diagnosed through various medical technologies, including ultrasonography, MRIs, and CT scans. The latter two methods are more accurate, particularly in older babies. Ultrasound loses its usefulness after the baby’s anterior fontanelle closes.

The pathological processes of the cerebrospinal pathway and flow dynamics are best viewed through an MRI.

The type of treatment provided is dependent on the type of hydrocephalus condition diagnosed, such as communicating or obstructive hydrocephalus. Brain imaging can help diagnose the particular version of the disorder.

Mistakes in diagnosing / treating hydrocephalus and the consequences

Medical negligence or malpractice can occur when healthcare professionals treating a patient for hydrocephalus do not correctly evaluate symptoms and warning signs of the condition. Common diagnostic and treatment errors regarding hydrocephalus include:

  • Failing to identify symptoms and diagnose the condition in unborn children
  • Failure to discover and repair a malfunctioning shunt
  • Failure to discover and treat an infected shunt

Some of the consequences resulting from the above diagnostic and treatment errors relative to hydrocephalus include:

  • Nerve damage
  • Encephalitis
  • Seizures
  • Brain damage
  • Vision problems
  • Meningitis
  • Loss of physical and mental abilities
  • Death

Treatment of hydrocephalus

Surgery is often employed in order to treat hydrocephalus. This involves installing a shunt system that redirects flow of cerebrospinal fluid from the brain through the use of a catheter or tubing to another area of the body. As the fluid is removed from the brain, the pressure that had built up within the brain is reduced.

However, shunt systems used to treat hydrocephalus are susceptible to malfunction. The causes of malfunction can include infection, blockages, and dislodging of the tubing. As the child grows, the tubing needs to be replaced in order to accommodate the change in body height.

Cause for a medical malpractice claim

If a physician or other medical professional is aware of the above-mentioned symptoms in your baby, but fails to take the necessary steps to diagnose and treat the condition, you may have cause for a medical malpractice claim. Failure to monitor a shunt for the treatment of hydrocephalus can also lead to a claim of medical malpractice.

These are many of the injuries our clients’ children have sustained

Cognitive, Developmental and Intellectual DisabilitiesInfant Spina Bifida
Brachial Plexus Injuries, Klumpke’s Palsy and Erb’s PalsyInfant Spinal Cord Damage
Cerebral PalsyInfant Subconjunctival Hemorrhage
Hypoxic Ischemic EncephalopathyNeonatal Hyperbilirubinemia
Intracranial HemorrhageKernicterus
Shoulder DystociaNeonatal Stroke and Infant Brain Ischemia
Epidural Birth InjuriesPersistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)
Horner’s SyndromeVacuum Extraction Injury
HydrocephalusWrongful Birth
Infant Bell’s PalsyUmbilical Cord Prolapse
Infant Broken Bones and Skull FracturesVacuum Extraction and Forceps Injuries
Infant Cervical Dystonia / Infant Torticollis / Infant Dystonia DisorderMeconium Stained Amniotic Fluid
Infant Meningitis

Legal help after a hydrocephalus diagnosis

At Crandall & Pera Law, we understand the severe nature of hydrocephalus and what it means for your child’s health. If you believe your little one has acquired his or her condition due to the negligence of medical personnel in Ohio or Kentucky, we are here to help you recover any compensation to which you may be entitled. To set up a free, no obligation consultation about your case, complete our contact form, simply call us today at 877.955.0020.