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Clinical Review Lesson of the week

Acute obstructive hydrocephalus complicating bacterial meningitis in childhood

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 20 June 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:1887
  1. Helen Mactier, senior registrara,
  2. Paul Galea, consultanta,
  3. Robert McWilliam, consultantb
  1. aDepartment of Child Health, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow G3 8SJ
  2. bFraser of Allander Unit, Royal Hospital for Sick Children
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Mactier
  • Accepted 3 December 1997

Bacterial meningitis may present as acute obstructive hydrocephalus, and cannot be excluded by sterile ventricular cerebrospinal fluid

Two children presented with signs of raised intracranial pressure and sepsis. Computed tomography showed relatively large ventricles, suggesting obstructive hydrocephalus. Raised intracranial pressure was confirmed at ventriculostomy, but cerebrospinal fluid was sterile. Streptococcus pneumoniae infection was subsequently documented in both patients, and findings at postmortem examination in one confirmed that he had acute purulent basal meningitis.

Case reports

Case 1

A boy presented to a district general hospital on the eve of his first birthday. He had collapsed at home, and his parents reported that for three days he had had fever, anorexia, vomiting, and increasing drowsiness. On arrival at hospital he was poorly perfused, could barely be roused, and his anterior fontanelle was bulging. The boy's blood pressure was 117/66 mm Hg and his occipitofrontal circumference was 50.6 cm (>90th centile). Initial investigations showed haemoglobin concentration 81 g/l, white cell count 23.9×109/l (neutrophils 18.9×109/l), platelets 226×109/l, serum urea and electrolytes normal, and C reactive protein 137 mg/l. He improved after resuscitation with plasma; then, because of recurrent episodes of bradycardia, he was intubated and ventilated. Intravenous ceftazidime and penicillin were given. The boy had been previously well, was fully immunised, and had been making appropriate neurodevelopmental progress. His large head had been noted previously but was attributed to a familial tendency and was not investigated.

The patient was transferred to the regional paediatric intensive care unit, where computed tomograms showed dilatation of the lateral and third ventricles with some reduction of the extra axial spaces (fig 1). There was no crowding of the foramen magnum, effacement of the basal cisterns, periventricular oedema, or loss of grey-white differentiation. Taking into account the history of a large head, it was concluded that …

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