New Jersey Hydrocephalus Attorneys
Advocating for Victims of Medical Malpractice and Birth Injuries throughout New Jersey
The brain is designed to produce and rely on cerebrospinal fluid, which acts as an essential cushion for brain structures. However, the body also requires a state of homeostasis, or relatively stable equilibrium, in order to function properly. As a result, a variation in the amount of a specific substance, such as cerebrospinal fluid, can spell catastrophic consequences for the brain itself and the interdependent bodily functions that it controls. Hydrocephalus, often referred to as “water on the brain,” is a condition characterized by the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. When the ventricles, which are responsible for the production of cerebrospinal fluid, become overwhelmed with excessive amounts of cerebrospinal fluid, this can result in increasing intracranial pressure and associated complications including convulsions, brain herniation, brain damage, and even death. Hydrocephalus often occurs in infants as a result of head trauma, a congenital disorder, or infection. When an infant suffers from hydrocephalus, it is critical to diagnose and treat the condition immediately. Timely and effective treatment for hydrocephalus can mean the difference between few, if any, serious complications and severe physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. If a physician fails to diagnose and/or treat hydrocephalus, he or she may be held liable through a medical malpractice lawsuit.
At Fronzuto Law Group, our highly experienced medical and pediatric malpractice attorneys represent children and families across the U.S. who have been harmed by the negligence of medical professionals. Our extensive knowledge and resources inform the most sophisticated strategies by which we have achieved millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for clients suffering from a vast array of medical conditions. For example, in a recent case, we recovered nearly $4 million on behalf of an 18-month-old child who sustained an anoxic brain injury after a physician failed to diagnose and treat newborn respiratory distress syndrome. It is our philosophy to provide the utmost support, guidance, and attention to each and every client, serving a “counselors” in every sense of the word. To discuss your available legal options with a member of our highly specialized team, contact our offices anytime at 973-435-4551, reach us toll free at 888-409-0816, or contact us online to schedule your free initial consultation.
Hydrocephalus: The Basics
Hydrocephalus is a very serious brain injury involving a buildup of fluid in the brain cavities and typically suffered by infants and the elderly. A person with hydrocephalus suffers from excessive fluid in the brain. Although everyone has some fluid on their brain and their spinal cord, excess fluid causes potentially dangerous pressure inside the skull and on the brain’s tissue. Cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, can be a good thing because it protects the brain against injury by cushioning the brain and allowing it to float inside the skull. CSF also transports nutrients to the brain and removes potentially harmful waste from the brain. However, too much CSF can cause serious problems and impair brain function, especially for newborn infants.
According to estimates from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), hydrocephalus occurs in approximately 1 to 2 of every 1,000 newborns. The condition may be congenital, caused by genetic abnormalities such as Chiari Malformations; acquired as a result of infections such as meningitis; or inflicted through some form of head trauma during childbirth.
For example, delivery errors that result in excessive pressure on the head or spine, or those that result in hypoxic brain injuries (those due to lack of oxygen), may cause hydrocephalus. If hydrocephalus is not immediately identified and treated, the resulting complications can be devastating and permanent, including seizures, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and difficulties with memory and other essential functions of the cerebral cortex.
Common Causes of Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus may be congenital, or it may be an acquired condition caused by external forces and physical trauma. Congenital hydrocephalus can be caused by congenital malformation such as Chiari Malformations, overproduction of cerebrospinal fluid, obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid, or some other congenital condition. Failure to properly identify and diagnose congenital hydrocephalus at an early stage can lead to permanent brain damage that affects memory, learning, motor function. If congenital hydrocephalus is undiagnosed, the condition can affect development of the child’s brain.
Acquired hydrocephalus poses significant risks to infants. In newborns, hydrocephalus may be acquired due to improper use of forceps or some other form of medical malpractice during the birthing process. For instance, a medical mistake during labor and delivery can result in birth trauma and an intracranial hemorrhage for the infant.
Specific causes of acquired hydrocephalus include:
- Premature birth: a premature baby with low weight and an underdeveloped body is at risk of blood vessels rupturing and causing infant brain injury
- Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE): when a baby’s brain is denied sufficient oxygen, brain damage can result.
- Meningitis and other bacterial infections can expose an infant to heightened risk of brain injury and hydrocephalus.
- Strokes: hydrocephalus is a common injury suffered by older adults after a stroke that causes bleeding in the brain.
- Concussions and other traumatic head injuries, especially head trauma that causes bleeding in the brain.
- Tumors: lesions on the brain or spinal cord.
- Spina bifida: Since this birth defect affects the development of both the spinal cord and the brain, it often causes hydrocephalus.
Symptoms of Hydrocephalus
Infants typically exhibit the most alarming and obvious symptom of hydrocephalus: a rapidly expanding and abnormally large head size. Because infant bodies are still in the process of developing and the cranial sutures have not finished fusing together, their skulls are flexible enough to expand when there is excess fluid. However, hydrocephalus may also manifest in other symptoms. Other signs of hydrocephalus in infants, toddlers, and children may include:
- Headaches: pressure on the ventricles can cause constant throbbing and pain in the head
- Seizures and muscle spasms: many babies who suffer from hydrocephalus eventually develop epilepsy
- Vomiting and nausea: hydrocephalus can also lead to difficulty feeding and loss of coordination and balance
- Protruding fontanel: the soft spot on the surface of the skull may become enlarged or bulge due to hydrocephalus
- Eyes that are fixed downward (often referred to as “sun setting”)
- Sleepiness and lethargy
- Fussiness and irritability
- Difficulty eating
- Lack of strength and muscle tone (hypotonia)
When an infant suffers hydrocephalus and it goes undiagnosed, there may be significant negative consequences, including seizures, cerebral palsy, and difficulty with memory and speech later in life. Hydrocephalus is typically connected to other brain injuries, which is why it is imperative that doctors diagnose and treat the condition as soon as possible.
Prior to birth, doctors can schedule neurological consultations and perform prenatal tests such as ultrasounds or fetal MRIs to determine whether the child has congenital hydrocephalus. After birth, hydrocephalus is typically diagnosed through a combination of physical exams and imaging tests. As mentioned, one of the most obvious warning signs of hydrocephalus is swelling of the head. Doctors will perform physical exams to measure the size of the infant’s skull, the presence of a bulging fontanel, the appearance of the eyes, and response of reflexes. In order to determine whether a baby has hydrocephalus, it is important for doctors to take head measurements of the infant and recognize when the head is increasing in size at an unreasonable rate. A preliminary diagnosis may be confirmed by head imaging that shows enlarged ventricles in the child’s brain and massive pressure on the brain. Possible imaging tests including ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRI’s may be used to confirm the diagnosis. Once your child is diagnosed with hydrocephalus, prompt treatment is essential to ensuring the best outcome.
Treatment for Hydrocephalus
A timely diagnosis is crucial to effective treatment of hydrocephalus. A person suffering from hydrocephalus may require numerous therapies and treatments. Hydrocephalus is often treated with a surgical procedure that involves the insertion of a shunt system to drain and divert the excessive cerebrospinal fluid from the ventricles and surrounding areas. Decreasing intracranial pressure is the first and most important priority for hydrocephalus sufferers in order to prevent further, if any, brain damage.
When a patient is diagnosed with hydrocephalus, the medical condition is often treated with a cerebral shunt system (a plastic tube and a valve) that allows doctors to remove excess water and relieve pressure on the patient’s brain. The key is to diagnose the condition early enough that it can be effectively managed through treatment that drains excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to the abdomen and enables a reduced flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain.
Another potentially effective form of treatment is the use of an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid from the brain through a hole in the bottom of the ventricle. There is risk with this surgical procedure, however, because the hole can lead to intracranial pressure and hemorrhaging when it becomes blocked by the fluid. Failure to appropriately identify and treat hydrocephalus can result in severe complications and in the most tragic of cases, death.
Contact our NJ Hydrocephalus Birth Injury Lawyers for a Free Case Evaluation
If your child suffered harm as a result of medical malpractice involving hydrocephalus or another condition, contact Fronzuto Law Group to schedule a free initial consultation about your potential claim: 973-435-4551 (toll free at 888-409-0816). We represent clients throughout New Jersey and review cases across the United States. You can also fill out our online form to arrange a free case evaluation.
- Hydrocephalus Fact Sheet, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- Mayo Clinic: Hydrocephalus