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updated 1/24/2011 1:09:26 PM ET 2011-01-24T18:09:26

The Houston hospital treating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said Sunday that her condition is improving daily, but gave no update on the buildup of brain fluid that has kept the Arizona congresswoman in intensive care.

A hospital statement said Giffords would continue to receive therapy in the intensive care unit "until her physicians determine she is ready for transfer" to a nearby center where she would begin a full rehabilitation program.

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They said the next medical updates would be provided when that happens.

Giffords was flown to Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center Hospital on Friday from Tucson, where she was shot in the forehead on Jan. 8 while meeting with constituents.

Story: Case in Giffords shooting likely to take years

At a news conference shortly after her arrival in Houston, doctors said she had been given a tube to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid. Everyone makes such fluid, but an injury can cause the fluid to not be cleared away as rapidly as normal. A backup can cause pressure and swelling within the brain.

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'A common problem'
"It's a common problem," occurring in 15 to 20 percent of people with a brain injury or brain surgery, said Dr. Reid C. Thompson, chairman of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, who is not involved in Giffords' care.

Another possible reason for a drainage tube: "After a gunshot wound to the head and brain where there is a lot of soft tissue injury, it is common to develop a leak of spinal fluid. This raises the risk of a meningitis and slows down wound healing," he said.

The tube is a short-term solution that doctors usually don't use for longer than a week or two because of the risk of infection, said Dr. Steve Williams, rehab chief at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine.

If the problem persists, this temporary catheter can be converted to a permanent one called a shunt. That involves an hour-long surgery to tunnel a thin tube from inside the brain down the neck and under the skin to the abdomen, where the fluid can drain and be dispersed in the belly, Williams said.

That is less than ideal — those can clog over time, requiring medical attention.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: In small setback, fluid buildup keeps Giffords in ICU

  1. Closed captioning of: In small setback, fluid buildup keeps Giffords in ICU

    >>> we turn to the latest now on congresswoman gaby giffords two weeks since she was wounded in that shooting rampage in houston . janet shamlian in houston for us. good evening.

    >> reporter: hi, lester a small setback for gabrielle giffords tonight, she may not make it out of inten sive care this week. doctors say she has a buildup of fluid on her brain and while that is not unexpected, it does need to be watched. gaby giffords will remain in the trauma unit of the houston hospital longer than planned, but her rehabilitation hasn't been affected. her husband, astronaut mark kelly , messaging on twitter today, "gabrielle start hearse second day of rehab in 20 minutes at memorial herman. no weekends off for here." for now, a buildup of fluid in her brain is keeping giffords in the hospital's intensive care unit . doctors say the buildup has eased some over the weekend, a good sign.

    >> little fluid collection that the doc there is put a drain into around her brain and that drain is still in place. with that drain in place, she can't leave the icu.

    >> reporter: experts say the fluid is an expected side effect from a brain injury such as giffords and the temporary drain could stay in place as she recovers.

    >> it is not uncommon at all to have someone with a drain for several weeks and then what we do is that we try to ween the patient off of this drain, again, by draining less frequently and trying to assess whether or not the brain is capable itself of reabsorbing the fluid.

    >> reporter: when giffords moves to the rehab sent they are room will become her work space. doctors are working with giffords on standing up with help. with a breathing tube in, she suspect able to talk but they believe she is trying to form words and communicate. therapists say that each day, they are asking giffords for a little bit more and they are very pleased with the progress she has made in just three days here in houston . lesser?

    >> janet shamlian , thank you.

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