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Nursing Care Plan for Hydrocephalus



Hydrocephalus is a condition where cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is not absorbed by the brain (non-obstructive) or is unable to drain (obstructive) and builds up inside or around the brain, progressively increasing the pressure on the brain.  Without treatment to relieve this pressure, the patient can suffer from growth and developmental abnormalities. Infants and toddlers with this condition may develop an abnormally large head circumference.


Genetic abnormalities and birth defects such as spina bifida and encephaloceles can cause congenital hydrocephalus. Acquired hydrocephalus can result as a complication of head injuries, tumors, or infections such as meningitis. Left untreated, severe brain damage can occur.

Desired Outcome

The patient will have optimal brain function without developmental delays; the patient will be free from injury; the patient will be free from infection

Hydrocephalus Nursing Care Plan

Subjective Data:

  • The rapid increase in head circumference
  • Poor appetite or feeding
  • Headaches
  • Personality changes
  • Difficulty concentrating

Objective Data:

  • Large or oddly shaped head
  • Bulging fontanelles
  • Fussy (infants)
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Eyes fixed downward (sunsetting) or strabismus

Nursing Interventions and Rationales

  • Assess vital signs hourly per facility protocol
  To monitor for signs of increased intracranial pressure such as tachycardia, shallow breathing, or rapid changes in blood pressure.  
  • Assess neurological status, examine pupils
  To monitor for changes in mental status, reflexes, and motor function.  Changes in pupil reaction may indicate altered brain stem functioning.  
  • Assess head circumference and fontanelles
  Increasing head circumference and bulging of fontanelles indicates accumulating fluid.  
  • Initiate safety and seizure precautions
    • Place an infant or toddler in a crib
    • Keep oxygen and suction at the bedside
    • Keep head of bed elevated
    • Support enlarged head when holding an infant
    • Position the patient on the opposite side of the operation

  • Increased cranial pressure can lead to seizures which may require oxygen supplementation or suction of secretions to clear airway.
  • Elevating the head of the bed promotes CSF drainage and breathing.
  • The weight of an enlarged head increases the difficulty for an infant to hold head upright. Maintain support of the head when holding an infant to prevent head and neck injuries.
  • Following surgery, position the patient to prevent injury to the surgical site, and maintain patency of the shunt.


  • Administer medications appropriately
    • Diuretics
    • Corticosteroids

  • Diuretics can help control the production of CSF in the case of non-obstructive hydrocephalus.
  • Corticosteroids help to reduce inflammation.


  • Prepare patient for surgery/shunt placement
    • Maintain NPO status 2-4 hours before surgery per facility protocol
    • Administer IV fluids
  Patients may undergo surgery to place a VentriculoPeritoneal (VP) shunt that will drain fluid from the brain to the stomach.  
  • Encourage frequent bowel movements by providing stool softeners as necessary
  To reduce the risk of increasing cranial pressure due to constipation and straining. More appropriate for toddlers and children than infants.  
  • Monitor for signs of infection of the surgical site and prove appropriate wound care
  Prevent localized or systemic infection and prevents the development of sepsis.  
  • Provide education for patients and parents/caregivers

  • Encourage parents to practice good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Teach the importance of safety and to reduce the risk of brain injury.
  • Educate caregivers about warning signs of increased cranial pressure and when to seek medical help after discharge.



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  • Question 1 of 1

The nurse is caring for an infant that has just returned from surgery for a VP shunt placement to treat hydrocephalus. The nurse knows to expect postoperative orders for which of the following?

Module 0 – Nursing Care Plans Course Introduction
Module Obstetrics (OB) & Pediatrics (Peds) Care Plans

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