Hydrocephalus Symptoms Explained As Nick Cannon's 5-Month-Old Son Zen Dies of Brain Cancer

TV presenter Nick Cannon announced on Tuesday that has 5-month-old child Zen had died over the weekend after suffering from brain cancer and experiencing a complication known as hydrocephalus.

"Over the weekend I lost my youngest son to a condition called hydrocephalus," the 41-year-old told his audience on the The Nick Cannon Show in an emotional tribute.

Cannon had taken Zen, his seventh child, to be examined by a doctor after noticing what seemed to be a "sinus" issue.

"He always had this real interesting breathing and by the time he was 2 months old I noticed... he had a nice-sized head—I call it a Cannon head, all my kids got really nice round heads. But I really wanted to take him to the doctor to get the breathing and the sinus things checked out, so we thought it would be a routine process."

After the checkup, doctors said the child's sinuses looked fine, but diagnosed him with a condition known as hydrocephalus, which was the result of a malignant brain tumor.

What Is Hydrocephalus?

Hydrocephalus is an abnormal buildup of fluid in the ventricles (cavities) deep within the brain. This excess fluid causes the ventricles to widen, which puts pressure on the surrounding brain tissue.

The brain and spinal cord is surrounded and protected by a clear, colorless fluid known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Under normal circumstances, this fluid flows through the ventricles and surrounds the brain and spinal cord before being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. The body usually produces a sufficient amount each day and reabsorbs it all.

Hydrocephalus occurs when this process is disrupted, resulting in a buildup of CSF—a phenomenon that can cause brain damage and even death.

The condition is mostly seen in infants and older adults but it can affect anyone at any age. Hydrocephalus can be caused by a variety of factors. In "congenital" hydrocephalus, the condition is present at birth or develops shortly afterwards, as a result of genetic abnormalities, developmental disorders, complications of premature birth or infections during pregnancy.

In the case of "acquired" hydrocephalus, meaning the the result of injury or disease, causes can range from brain or spinal cord tumors—as was the case with Cannon's son—infections of the central nervous system, or any injury or stroke that causes bleeding in the brain.

The symptoms of hydrocephalus vary significantly between individuals and depend largely on how old patients are when they develop the condition, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

For infants, symptoms may include:

  • A rapid increase in head size
  • An unusually large head
  • A bulge on the soft spot, known as the fontanel, on the top of the head
  • Vomiting
  • Issues with sucking or feeding
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Eyes that are fixed in a downward gaze—also known as the "setting-sun eye phenomenon—or are not able to turn outward
  • Seizures

For older children, young adults, and middle-aged adults, symptoms of hydrocephalus may include:

  • Headache
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems
  • Slowing down or loss in developmental progress, such as the ability to walk and talk
  • Vision problems
  • Decline in school or job performance
  • Coordination problems
  • Loss of bladder control and/or frequent urination
  • Difficulty remaining awake or waking up
  • Sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Changes in personality or cognition, such as memory loss

In older adults, hydrocephalus symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty with walking
  • Progressive mental decline
  • General slowing of movements
  • Loss of bladder control and/or frequent urination
  • Poor coordination and balance
Nick Cannon
Nick Cannon at the opening night of the new play "Thoughts of a Colored Man" on Broadway at The Golden Theatre on October 13, 2021 in New York City. Cannon's son Zen passed away over the weekend after suffering from a brain tumor. Bruce Glikas/WireImage