Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Hydrocephalus fluid build-up

Hydrocephalus fluid build-up
beginning of content


Hydrocephalus is a condition caused by fluid build-up in the brain. The brain makes a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid has important functions but if there is too much fluid, pressure can damage the brain.

What is hydrocephalus?

The cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, cushions the brain, provides nutrients and removes toxins.

Normally, CSF is made in the brain and removed from around the brain in a cycle. But CSF can build up if:

  • the brain makes too much
  • there is a blockage and it cannot drain properly
  • it is not being absorbed into the bloodstream.

Causes of hydrocephalus

If a child is born with hydrocephalus, it is called congenital hydrocephalus. This is usually caused by a problem in the CSF process when the baby’s brain is developing.

People can also get hydrocephalus as a child or as an adult after a head injury, after bleeding in the brain, after a brain tumour or after meningitis, which is an infection around the brain.

Another cause of hydrocephalus is spina bifida, a birth defect that affects the spine. Hydrocephalus can develop in children with spina bifida before or after they are born.

Symptoms of hydrocephalus

The most common symptoms of hydrocephalus are headache, nausea, vomiting and fits.

For babies, hydrocephalus can also cause:

  • increased head size
  • bulging or firm fontanelle, which is the soft spot on a baby’s head
  • poor feeding
  • drowsiness or sleepiness.

For older children or adults, hydrocephalus can also cause:

  • blurred or double vision
  • problems concentrating
  • loss of coordination
  • confusion.

Diagnosis of hydrocephalus

If someone has symptoms of hydrocephalus, tests can be done to check for extra fluid in the brain. They include:

  • ultrasound
  • computerised tomography scan, or CT
  • magnetic resonance imaging scan, or MRI.

Treatment of hydrocephalus

While hydrocephalus can’t be cured, it can be controlled. Treatment aims to reduce pressure on the brain. The usual approach is surgery to place a fine tube that helps drain the fluid.

Last reviewed: May 2016

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 29 results

Brain Foundation | Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus Hydrocephalus Read More at Virtual Medical Centre Description Each year in Australia, one in every 1,000 children is born with hydrocephalus

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Hydrocephalus | myVMC

Hydrocephalus can be defined as increased volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) within the brain

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Normal pressure hydrocephalus | myVMC

Normal pressure hydrocephalus is a brain disorder. Symptoms include dementia, urinary incontinence and gait changes.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Hydrocephalus and Spina Bifida | The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Hydrocephalus and shunts

Inside every brain there is a clear fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This fluid is made inside spaces in the brain, called ventricles. The CSF flows out over the surface of the brain and down the spinal cord before being absorbed into the bloodstream. CSF provides nutrients to the brain and spinal cord and removes waste products. It also acts as a cushion to protect the brain and spinal cord.

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Neural tube defects - Lab Tests Online AU

Site map of article content

Read more on Lab Tests Online website

Spina Bifida | The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Spina Bifida describes a group of spinal abnormalities that occurs within the first four weeks of a pregnancy when the baby’s developing spine (neural tube) fails to close properly.

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Brain Foundation | Chiari Malformation

Chiari Malformation Chiari Malformation (ACM, Arnold-Chiari Malformation, Cerebellomedullary Malformation Syndrome) Description The Chiari malformation is usually present at birth, but can develop later in association with some tumours and spinal abnormalities

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Brain Foundation | Agenesis Corpus Callosum

Agenesis Corpus Callosum Agenesis Corpus Callosum Description Agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC) is a rare congenital abnormality in which there is a partial or complete absence of the corpus callosum

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Continence in spina bifida: bladder and bowel -

Issues surrounding bladder or bowel continence are a concern for many people with spina bifida.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo