Skip to Main Content


  • Hydrocephalus refers to the excess accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Most cases result from congenital or acquired obstructions to the flow of CSF from the brain to the spinal canal.
  • Infants with hydrocephalus are often diagnosed on routine examination by finding head circumference disproportionately large for age or splitting of the cranial sutures.
  • Older children with hydrocephalus will usually complain of headache, which is often progressive in nature, worse in the morning, awakens the patient from sleep, and is exacerbated by lying down or straining.
  • It is imperative to begin treatment in the unstable patient before herniation occurs. Patients who are lethargic on presentation, those with a Glasgow Coma Scale <8, or those who deteriorate in the emergency department are intubated following rapid sequence induction procedures and ventilated to maintain Pco2 at 35 torr. If there are signs of herniation such as unequal pupils, fixed and dilated pupils, or posturing, mild hyperventilation can be helpful on a short-term basis.
  • Patients who do not respond with an improved mental status after intubation and controlled ventilation may benefit from diuretic therapy with mannitol or furosemide.
  • After the patient is stabilized, a computed tomography scan or magnetic resonance image of the brain is performed to define the lesion and plan definitive treatment.


Hydrocephalus refers to the excess accumulation of CSF. This can occur because of obstruction of CSF flow, reduced absorption, or excess production. Most (70%) of CSF is produced by the choroid plexus and absorbed by the arachnoid villi and granulations. Flow direction is from the lateral to third ventricle via the foramen of Monro. It then flows through the aqueduct of Sylvius to the fourth ventricles and exits via the foramina of Luschka (2) and Magendie to the basal cisterns.1,2 It then divides between the spinal subarachnoid space and the subarachnoid cisterns. CSF is absorbed through arachnoid villi covering the brain and leptomeninges, across the ependymal lining of the ventricles, and the spinal subarachnoid space.1,2 Although there are several ways to categorize hydrocephalus based on the site of excess fluid collection, the primary concern in the emergency department is determining the etiology of the problem and instituting appropriate treatment.


Most cases of hydrocephalus result from congenital or acquired obstructions to the flow of CSF from the brain to the spinal canal. Congenital malformations include the Arnold–Chiari malformation, which is elongation and downward displacement of the brain stem into the fourth ventricle, and the Dandy–Walker malformation, which is a posterior fossa cyst that causes obstruction at the outlet of the fourth ventricle at the foramen of Luschka and Magendie.2 Intrauterine infections such as toxoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes, and syphilis can lead to hydrocephalus through inflammation of the ependymal lining of the ventricular system and lead to CSF flow obstruction.1 Intraventricular hemorrhage in preterm newborns can also lead to hydrocephalus. Beyond the neonatal period, the most common causes of acquired hydrocephalus are mass lesions, which include tumors, cysts, and abscesses. Other acquired causes of hydrocephalus are meningitis, encephalitis, posthemorrhagic adhesions, and vascular malformations.1,...

Want remote access to your institution's subscription?

Sign in to your MyAccess profile while you are actively authenticated on this site via your institution (you will be able to verify this by looking at the top right corner of the screen - if you see your institution's name, you are authenticated). Once logged in to your MyAccess profile, you will be able to access your institution's subscription for 90 days from any location. You must be logged in while authenticated at least once every 90 days to maintain this remote access.


About MyAccess

If your institution subscribes to this resource, and you don't have a MyAccess profile, please contact your library's reference desk for information on how to gain access to this resource from off-campus.

Subscription Options

AccessPediatrics Full Site: One-Year Subscription

Connect to the full suite of AccessPediatrics content and resources including 20+ textbooks such as Rudolph’s Pediatrics and The Pediatric Practice series, high-quality procedural videos, images, and animations, interactive board review, an integrated pediatric drug database, and more.

$595 USD
Buy Now

Pay Per View: Timed Access to all of AccessPediatrics

24 Hour Subscription $34.95

Buy Now

48 Hour Subscription $54.95

Buy Now

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.