Is Your Baby's Head Normal? What You Should Know About Hydrocephalus

Mother with Newborn baby concerned about hydrocephalus

As a new parent, especially as a first-time parent, it's natural to worry about things that don't seem right with your child. Having the ability to Google any symptom your baby exhibits rarely does much to soothe anxiety. If your baby's head seems to be unusually large, your internet search may have led you to the term "hydrocephalus." Hydrocephalus is a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the skull that can put pressure on a developing brain. Here's what you should know about hydrocephalus, and what to do if you suspect it.

First and foremost, know that it is normal for babies' heads to grow quickly in the months after birth—typically up to two centimeters in circumference for the first three months, and then about one centimeter per month thereafter until around the age of six months.

Of course, some babies' heads grow faster than others, so if your baby's head grows more than two centimeters in a month, that is not an automatic reason for alarm. If you are worried, contact your pediatrician and let her know if your baby has any other signs of hydrocephalus.

Signs of Hydrocephalus in Infants

Hydrocephalus, if untreated, can cause permanent brain damage, so it is worth ruling out. In addition to a rapid increase in head circumference, the most common signs of hydrocephalus in infants are:

  • Bulging fontanel (soft spot) on the baby's head
  • Seizures
  • "Sunsetting" eyes (eyes that appear to be fixed downward)
  • Extreme sleepiness
  • Extreme fussiness or irritability
  • Vomiting and/or poor feeding
  • Lack of muscle tone

Again, many infants are fussy, sleepy, or vomit frequently, so the presence of some of these symptoms does not necessarily point to hydrocephalus. But if there are multiple symptoms or they persist or worsen, they should not be ignored.

What Causes Hydrocephalus?

There are a number of things that can cause hydrocephalus, including

  • Infection during pregnancy, such as rubella (German measles)
  • Infection after pregnancy, such as meningitis
  • Spina bifida
  • Injury before, during or after delivery
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Head trauma
  • Brain tumor
  • Genetic abnormality

If you are aware that your child has, or may have, suffered an injury or infection, you should make that known to your pediatrician.

What Your Doctor Should Do if Hydrocephalus is Suspected

Because there are so many potential causes of hydrocephalus, and because so many other conditions share at least some of the symptoms, your doctor will likely do some testing if a preliminary physical exam of your baby suggests it is warranted.

Your child's doctor will begin by looking for some of the outward signs of hydrocephalus such as larger than normal head circumference, sunsetting eyes, or a bulging fontanel. If a physical examination points to the need for further testing, the pediatrician may order an ultrasound (if the baby's fontanel is still open). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) creates an image of the brain in cross-section and might be used to look for a buildup of CSF.

Computerized tomography (a CT scan) also shows the brain in cross section. A CT scan may show changes in brain structure resulting from excess CSF. If testing yields unclear results, your child's doctor may choose to watchfully wait and repeat the test in several weeks.

If any of these tests lead the doctor to believe your baby has hydrocephalus, she may order treatment to drain CSF and relieve pressure on your baby's growing brain. Most often, treatment consists of a shunt, a drainage system that is inserted surgically.

What if the Doctor Doesn't Take My Concerns Seriously?

Unfortunately, doctors sometimes minimize or brush away the concerns of new parents, chalking them up to inexperience or anxiety. While concerns may turn out to be unfounded, they should never be ignored, especially if symptoms persist.

If your child's doctor ignores your concerns and your child suffers injury, even permanent injury, as a result, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. Under those circumstances, it is wise to consult with an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney. You have only a limited time in which to make a claim against a doctor or health care facility. Once that that window closes, your opportunity to make a claim is gone forever. We will discuss with you whether you have a viable claim, and help you to evaluate and advocate for your child's needs.

If you have questions about hydrocephalus or failure to diagnose hydrocephalus, we invite you to contact our law office.

Categories: Medical Malpractice

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.