Filament Logo    

What is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is one of the most common congenital (present at birth) problems in children and the most common clinical problem pediatric neurosurgeons face. It happens to one child per 1,000 live births and is a major social, medical and economic problem. Hydrocephalus is almost always a life-long condition.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is important to the human body because it bathes and cushions the brain and quickly transfers signals between its different areas. A child with hydrocephalus, however, has too much CSF inside the ventricles of the brain.

The treatment for hydrocephalus—the shunt—has saved many lives, but we still don’t have a cure and shunting is not a perfect treatment. Up to 15 percent of children with shunts have painful problems during their lifetime—problems like infections or shunts that don’t work properly. This often means operating many times on a child to replace the shunt. Dr. Avellino and his colleagues at Seattle Children's would like to save children from this pain.

At Children’s, we’re asking, “How can we treat patients in a less invasive manner and possibly cure hydrocephalus?”

This content is from Dr. Avellino's research, and has been provided by Seattle Children's & Regional Medical Center Neurosurgery website.


  • 1 million people have hydrocephalus in the US.
  • There are 180 different causes.
  • There is no cure and very little research. The NIH spends 60 cents per person with hydrocephalus per year compared to $300 per person per year with Juvenile Diabetes though the prevalence of the disease is the same.
  • The standard treatment, a shunt, was developed in 1952 and has a 50% failure rate after just two years which is the reason so many have to have multiple brain surgeries just to stay alive.
  • 60% of children with hydrocephalus are not independent as adults and require assistance.
  • 50% of children with hydrocephalus score 80 or below on standardized intelligence tests.
  • It costs the United States $1 billion per year in health care costs to treat hydrocephalus.

PO Box 141
Woodinville, WA 98072
Tax ID Number 20-4998046
Copyright 2007 Hydrocephalus Research Guild

Web design courtesy of Ubiquity
Photography courtesy of Nikki Gale Photography