Benefits and Risks – Shunts

The implantation of a shunt usually allows people with normal pressure hydrocephalus to enjoy more normal lives. Like any surgery, however, the procedure carries certain risks.

Although there is currently no cure for hydrocephalus, a shunt can help relieve some of the symptoms of the condition.

Benefits

A shunt redirects cerebrospinal fluid from the central nervous system to another area of the body. This technique allows the brain’s enlarged ventricles to return to a more normal size in an effort to relieve the symptoms of hydrocephalus. Relief of walking difficulties is most common, while relief of dementia is often less dramatic.

The surgical procedure to implant a shunt generally takes less than an hour to perform.

A shunt is designed to:

  • Regulate the amount, flow direction, and pressure of cerebrospinal fluid out of the brain’s ventricles or lumbar space
  • Provide an easy way for your healthcare team to get cerebrospinal fluid samples (with a valve reservoir)

Risks

Unlike most surgical procedures, in which the risks are highest during the operation itself, most of the common problems associated with shunting can and do occur at a later time.

The most common complications with shunting for normal pressure hydrocephalus are infection and subdural hematoma due to over drainage of cerebrospinal fluid.

Infection

Infection is a risk of all surgical operations, especially when a foreign body like a shunt is implanted. If left untreated, infection can cause the wound to open up or cause systemic infection with chills and high fever.

Infection usually requires removal of the shunt. In some cases, the infection can be controlled with intensive antibiotic therapy without removing the shunt.

Symptoms of infection may include unusual redness or swelling of the wounds along the length of the shunt.

Subdural Hematoma (Blood Clot)

A shunt-related hematoma can occur as a result of a fall, even if there are no apparent injuries.

Symptoms associated with a subdural hematoma vary, and may include:

  • Headaches
  • Paralysis
  • Coma

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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