Medical Reasons for Fluid Around a Baby's Brain

Cerebrospinal fluid consists of a colorless protective liquid that covers the brain and spinal cord of the central nervous system surface, according to the website Neuroscience for Kids. The purpose of cerebrospinal fluid is to transport hormones, protect the brain and remove waste. Hydrocephalus or fluid around the brain occurs when excess cerebrospinal fluid puts extra pressure on the brain, causing it to swell. While the exact cause of fluid around the brain varies, it can be caused by a variety of medical conditions.

An infant at the doctor's office. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Congenital Hydrocephalus

Babies may have fluid around their brain as a result of a genetic condition called congenital hydrocephalus. Approximately four out of every 1,000 children from birth to three months of age are diagnosed with hydrocephalus, according to KidsGrowth.com. Congenital hydrocephalus is usually caused by genetic abnormalities or prenatal complication. It occurs when the amount of fluid within the skull cavity rapidly increases, creating excess pressure inside the head and expanding the skull bones to a larger-than-normal appearance. The KidsGrowth.com estimates that 250,000 premature babies are born with this condition annually. This condition may cause severe brain damage, brain tissue destruction or death if it is not treated immediately.

Brain Tumors

Brain tumors can cause a baby to have fluid around his brain, according to California’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. Brain tumors add pressure to the brain when one or more of the ventricles or the fluid-filled cavities that usually drain cerebrospinal fluid becomes blocked, trapping excess fluid within the brain. When a baby develops fluid around the brain from a brain tumor, he may experience vomiting, drowsiness and/or irritability. In some severe cases, babies may suffer decreased cardiac and respiratory function, coma or death as a result of the excess fluid surrounding their brain.

Premature Birth

One of the most serious complications of premature birth is fluid or bleeding around the brain. Bleeding that surrounds the brain occurs when the ventricles within the brain enlarge as they fill up with extra blood. Babies born before or at 32 weeks of pregnancy are at highest risk for bleeding on the brain, according to March of Dimes. These babies are usually diagnosed from an early ultrasound and they tend to begin bleeding within the first three days of life. While most brain bleeds are mild and resolve on their own with little or no lasting problems, severe bleeds can cause brain damage, cerebral palsy and/or learning and behavioral problems. In some cases, a neurosurgeon may insert a tube into the baby’s brain in an effort to drain excess fluid and reduce the risk of brain damage.

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