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Surgery for Hydrocephalus

When surgery is required to relieve the symptoms of hydrocephalus, an experienced neurosurgeon will make a recommendation as to which course of action is the best. Advanced surgical techniques available at major medical centers are safe and effective, with minimally invasive options available in some cases.

Surgery for hydrocephalus often means implanting a shunt, a small tube that drains the excess fluid from the brain to another spot in the body for reabsorption. A device called a ventriculoperitoneal shunt drains the excess CSF from the brain to the abdominal cavity. These shunts are very effective in relieving hydrocephalus, but they do carry a substantial lifelong risk of infection or blockage.

More recently, treatment for obstructive ("non-communicating") hydrocephalus was revolutionized by the development of advanced minimally invasive endoscopic approaches available at major medical centers.  The procedure known as an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV) is safe and short, lasting approximately 30 minutes. It's a minimally invasive surgical alternative to the older procedure, which requires a lifetime commitment to maintaining the shunt.

This minimally invasive technique was made possible by the development of small caliber endoscopes, which allow surgeons an alternative to placing shunts in patients with hydrocephalus.  ETV involves making a small (just 3 or 4 mm) opening between the third ventricle and the subarachnoid space, and it can be done through a small incision behind the hairline. The majority of patients stay in the hospital for only 1 night. Because there is no implanted device there is no risk of shunt infection or mechanical malfunction.

At the Weill Cornell Pediatric Brain and Spine Center, our pediatric neurosurgeons are highly skilled in the most advanced procedures for treating hydrocephalus. We practice at NewYork/Presbyterian Hospital, allowing our surgeons access to the very best facilities and specialists, as well as the most leading-edge research laboratories, to ensure that your child gets the very best treatment available. (Find Doctors Who Treat Hydrocephalus.)

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Greenfield, Ph.D., M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: August 2018