There are many birth defects being discovered all around the world. However, the birth defect I found to be most interesting was hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is one of the single most common birth defects and most people have never heard of it. What happens is, the brain is producing cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) normally and fluid is drained from the brain into the spinal canal and is reabsorbed by the body, keeping the amount in the brain balanced. But when normal drainage doesn’t occur, the brain produces too much CSF fluid to be able to drain normally which leads to the build-up of fluid in the ventricles of the brain and causes pressure and enlarging of the head. Hydrocephalic skulls can be found in ancient Egyptian medical literature from 2500 BC to 500 AD but was described more clearly by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates in the 4th century BC. Hydrocephalus may be caused by genetic defects or certain infections during pregnancy.
If the mother has infections such as the chicken pox or mumps during pregnancy it makes the risk of the baby having hydrocephalus greater because the infection creates a blockage in the brain which doesn’t allow the CSF fluid to drain properly and when this happens it starts to put pressure on the brain causing the embryos head to enlarge. Some malformations of the brain may cause hydrocephalus such as spinal bifida and dandy-walker syndrome as well. Also it can occur when the ventricles produce too much CSF fluid or when the bloodstream cannot reabsorb the fluid that was produced. “Each year, 1 in 1,000 children are born and diagnosed with hydrocephalus.” This is fairly large number especially when the latest statistics reveal that a child is born in the U.S. every 8.1 seconds, meaning that a child is born with hydrocephalus every 135 minutes. Many cases of hydrocephalus are most likely detected in the utero or at birth as early as the first trimester.
The doctors can somewhat tell whether or not the baby in the utero has hydrocephalus or not by doing multiple ultrasounds throughout the months but it may not show the obstruction precisely. There are limited studies available on the long-term prognosis of those with prenatal hydrocephalus. There aren’t any treatments to treat this birth defect while in the utero but there are some after birth. One of the treatments is called “Shunting”. Shunt procedures, involve surgically implanting one end of a catheter (flexible tube) into a ventricle of the brain and placing the other end in the abdominal cavity, chambers of the heart, or space around the lungs where fluid is drained and absorbed by the bloodstream. A valve in the shunt system regulates the flow to prevent over-draining and under-draining. This procedure can be quite dramatic because the head circumference can shrink as much a 7-8 centimeters in the first week.
However, there are risks such as infection when performing this procedure. Infections occur in 5-10% of shunting operations. Hydrocephalic skulls can be found in ancient Egyptian medical literature from 2500 BC to 500 AD but was described more clearly by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates in the 4th century BC. Hydrocephalus cases were originally described by Hippocrates who believed that this disease was cause by an extra cerebral accumulation of water. Hydrocephalus and its side effects can cause many common side effects such as confusion, loss of vision, headaches, problems driving a car, and diabetes. “Approximately one third of patients who are treated for hydrocephalus will attain a normal intelligence level (i.e., a mean score of between 80 and 100 points on an IQ test) or higher.
These patients are more apt to be self-sufficient and capable of leading a normal life.” Some people have success with the outcome of hydrocephalus and some do not. “A thorough neuropsychological examination can cost up to $2,000, particularly if the findings are reviewed with you afterwards.” It cost a lot of money just for an examination to be done. But when they are examining you they can help you develop strategies to maximize performance of various tasks and to help make you more conscious about the conditions and its effects. The long-term outlook for a child born with hydrocephalus depends on how serious the problem is and other associated abnormalities.
Doctors recommend that children receive follow up care and evaluations to prevent infection and monitor the functions of the shunt. Normal pressure hydrocephalus was found to be significantly more seen in males. It can occur at any age group. With good, early treatment, a normal lifespan with few limitations can be reached. After surgery, trained medicals professionals monitor the patient. Headaches may start to disappear because of the release of pressure on the brain.
People may improve quickly or it might take weeks or months to improve and in some patients little or no improvement is possible. The length of time that a person will stay at hospital depends on how fast they recover. Hydrocephalus is a common disease not many people know about and should take time to learn about. It can have some serious side effects if you don’t have it treated right away. There are limited treatments today to cure hydrocephalus but it doesn’t mean people aren’t trying to find more.