What Are Water Head Babies?

Water head baby is a term given to newborns born with hydrocephalus, a disease characterized by the buildup of excess cerebrospinal fluid in the brain due to some obstruction, which prevents fluid drainage 1. Left untreated, hydrocephalus causes brain damage and death 1. This disease typically affects newborns, but also develops in older children and adults.


Symptoms of hydrocephalus vary, depending on an individual’s age and the progression of the disease 1. Newborns affected by hydrocephalus experience seizures, sleepiness, vomiting, irritability and developmental delays 1. Physical symptoms typically include an unusually large head, which rapidly increases in size, a downward casting of the eyes and a prominent soft spot located on the top of the head. These individuals sometimes display a regression or slowing of development, impaired performance at work or school, a lack of energy and urinary incontinence. Problems with balance, double vision and eyes casting downward are also signs of hydrocephalus 1.


The cause of hydrocephalus is a buildup of fluid in the brain 1. A person’s brain floats in a liquid called cerebrospinal fluid, which flows into the spaces surrounding the brain before absorbing into the bloodstream. The production, flow and absorption of the cerebrospinal fluid must maintain a balance to keep normal pressure inside of the skull. Any disruption of this balance most likely results in the development of hydrocephalus 1.


Diagnosis of hydrocephalus in newborns and young children typically occurs during the routine prenatal ultrasound or during normal growth monitoring 1. In older children and adults, diagnosis of hydrocephalus typically occurs due to the development of symptoms 1. To diagnosis the disease, a doctor takes a medical history, and performs a neurological examination and a physical. Doctors often also run a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI) and a computerized tomography test, or CT, to confirm the diagnosis.


Typically, treatment for hydrocephalus includes one of two types of surgery 1. A ventriculostomy is a procedure in which a surgeon creates a hole in the lower portion of a ventricle to encourage drainage and absorption of the cerebrospinal fluid. A shunt placement is a procedure in which a doctor inserts one end of a tube in a ventricle and the other in an area ideal for easy cerebrospinal fluid absorption, such as the abdomen. Typically, shunts are necessary for the rest of a person’s life and need replacing during a child’s growth phase, or if the tube becomes infected or blocked.