Intraventricular hemorrhage, or IVH, occurs when there's bleeding into or near the normal spaces within a baby's brain. Although the cause of IVH isn't completely known, premature babies have an increased risk of developing the condition because their blood vessels are very fragile and immature. As a result, they can easily burst and cause bleeding. The smaller and more premature the baby, the greater the risk of developing IVH.
Bleeding in the brain can put pressure on the nerve cells and cause damage. Severe damage to cells can lead to brain injury and cause motor problems or mental retardation.
Signs & symptoms
Typically, there are no obvious signs that a baby is experiencing bleeding. However, symptoms of IVH may include:
- Apnea, when a baby stops breathing
- Bradycardia, when a baby has a low heart rate
- Pale or blue coloring, called cyanosis
- Weak suck
- High-pitched cry
- Swelling or bulging of the fontanelles, the soft spots between the bones of the baby's head
- Anemia, or low blood count
Premature babies who are at an increased risk of developing intraventricular hemorrhage will be closely monitored and tested for the disease. These babies will usually have an ultrasound of their head within the first three to 10 days of life. The ultrasound will provide an inside view of the brain through the fontanelles, the spaces between the bones of the baby's head. If intraventricular hemorrhage is detected, the severity will be graded based on the amount of blood seen in the brain.
Other than trying to prevent premature birth and treating health problems that may worsen a baby's condition and increase the risk of IVH, there's no specific treatment for the condition. However, giving mothers medications called corticosteroids before delivery has been shown to reduce the risk of IVH in babies.
If the IVH is severe enough that the ventricles in the brain enlarge and put the surrounding brain at risk for damage, a shunt may be required to drain the excess fluid that has built up in the ventricles. A shunt is placed by a surgical procedure, and it drains the excess fluid from the ventricles in the brain under the skin to the abdomen.
UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your child's doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your child's provider.
Intensive Care Nursery Glossary
Our glossary explains the terms we use in the intensive care nursery in language that's easy to understand. Learn about chest tubes, respirators and more.
Intensive Care Nursery Parents' Guide
Is your baby in the intensive care nursery? Our guide helps you take an active role in your child's care, know what to expect and access support services.
Family-friendly amenities help you relax and take care of yourself while staying close to your child. We offer lounges, kitchens, showers, breastfeeding rooms and more.
Glogau Teddy Bear Rescue Fund
Families that need additional assistance during their child's hospital stay have access to toys, hotel vouchers and other amenities. Find out more.
Interpreter Services & Communication Assistance
Interpreter services in many languages and TDDs are available for families that need help communicating with care teams. Here's how to access them.
Patient relations reps and nursing supervisors are here to answer questions and address concerns. Learn about your rights, how to reach us and more.
Social workers ease the effect of illness, injury and hospitalization on your family with counseling and assistance to help you navigate the challenges.
Chaplains help UCSF patients, families and staff cope with the spiritual and emotional challenges of childhood illness. Learn more.
Awards & recognition
Ranked among the nation's best in 10 specialties