The occurrence of obstructive vs absorptive hydrocephalus in newborns and infants: Relevance to treatment choices

Liana Beni-Adani, Naresh Biani, Liat Ben-Sirah, Shlomi Constantini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Background and objective: The classification of hydrocephalus in newborns and in infants is different from the classification in adulthood. This difference exists due to disparity in the source pathologies that produce the hydrocephalus, and the practical distinctions in prognosis and treatment choices. The objective of this paper is to present the spectrum of obstructive-communicating hydrocephalus, which is more complex in the pediatric group, and to propose the relevance of this particular classification to treatment options. Materials and methods: The authors categorized infants with active hydrocephalus at time of presentation into the following four groups along the spectrum of communicating vs obstructive HCP. Group 1: patients with a purely absorptive (communicating) HCP. In these patients, tetraventricular dilatation is usually observed with occasional extraaxial fluid accumulation. An extracranial CSF diversion (shunt) is the treatment of choice. Group 2: patients with an obstructive component together with a persistent absorptive component. In these patients, a technically successful endoscopic procedure will not prevent progression of clinical symptoms of HCP. An extracranial CSF diversion (shunt) should be the treatment of choice even though some of these patients are currently treated by endoscopy. Group 3: patients with an obstructive component together with a temporary absorptive component. In these patients, a technically successful ETV should be followed by temporary CSF drainage [via LP, continuous spinal drainage (CLD), or ventriculostomy] with or without supplemental medical treatment (i.e., Diamox) for several days. Such temporary drainage may decrease failure rate in this subgroup. Group 4: patients with a purely obstructive HCP. In these patients, an endoscopic procedure (ETV) is the treatment of choice. According to this spectrum classification, the authors classify different entities with representative cases and discuss relevancy to treatment options and prognosis. Results: The data suggest that obstructive hydrocephalus in the very young population may be rather a combination of obstructive and absorptive problem. The outcome of the patient depends mainly not only on the basic pathology causing the hydrocephalus but also on the treatment that is chosen and its complications. While bleeding and infection represent the major causes for communicating hydrocephalus, patients with complex pathologies of congenital type and intra- or interventricular obstructions may reflect obstructive hydrocephalus. Treatment of these patients may be successful by shuntless procedures if the absorptive problem is not the major component. In transient absorptive hydrocephalus, temporary measures were effective in many cases leading to successful procedures of ETV and/or posterior-fossa decompression in selected cases. Conclusions: Shuntless procedures are the dream of a pediatric neurosurgeon provided it solves the problem and does not imply unacceptable risk. However, the benefit has to be evaluated years after the procedure is performed, as only prospective multicenter studies will truly show which procedure may have the best overall results in the developing child. Until such studies are available, understanding the basic pathology or the combination of pathologies leading to hydrocephalus in a given child may open the window of opportunities for other than shunt surgery in many hydrocephalic children with major obstructive component.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1543-1563
Number of pages21
JournalChild's Nervous System
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Classification system
  • Endoscopy
  • Infant hydrocephalus
  • Shunt
  • Third ventriculostomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Clinical Neurology


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