Why is shunting done?

You may need this surgery if you have a problem with the fluid in or around your brain. This fluid, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), protects and nourishes your brain. Surgery may be needed if you have more CSF than your brain needs or it is not being absorbed correctly. The medical term for this is hydrocephalus.

How is shunting done?

Shunting is a way to direct the fluid away from the brain and relieve the pressure it causes. You will be asleep for this procedure.

There are many ways to put in a shunt. A VP shunt goes from your head to your belly. A small area of hair will be shaved from your head. This is where the surgeon will create a hole and put a small tube or catheter into the brain, sometimes using a special type of x-ray to do this. The tubing is then connected to a longer piece that is placed in the belly through one or more a small incision. A valve sits between these two tubes to direct and control flow. Some valves can be sped up or slowed down in the office with a special magnet.

An LP shunt puts the first catheter into an area in your spine (back) and the rest into your belly.

A VA shunt is like a VP shunt, but the final catheter is placed in the heart instead of the belly.

There are other places the end of the shunt can be placed, as well. All of these allow fluid to drain and be absorbed properly. You should ask your doctor about your specific surgery.

What are my risks? What are common complications?

With any surgery there are risks. You should talk to your doctor about them. Some common complications include shunt breaking, infection and blockage. These cause the shunt to stop working properly and could require further surgery to repair.

What do I need to know before surgery?

Shunts are a common neurosurgery, and your surgical team is very experienced. You will be asked to answer a lot of questions and may have other tests done before surgery. You should follow all instructions given to you before surgery. The amount of time you will spend in the hospital after a shunt depends on many things, including your general health before the shunt; however, many shunt surgeries only require one night in the hospital.

General discharge instructions

Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions when leaving the hospital. In general, keep your incisions clean with soap and water but do not soak or scrub them. Do not push on the area where the catheter has been placed. Avoid straining or lifting heavy objects. Eat a well-balanced diet to help with healing. Some people find sleeping with more pillows to be helpful at first. Make sure someone looks at your incisions every day and contacts your doctor’s office with any concerns. Most patients can resume normal activity a few weeks after surgery. Most patients with a shunt do not have any long-term limitations once they have recovered, but check with your doctor about your specific shunt.

What should I expect while recovering?

You may be sore between your different shunt incisions where the tubing was passed under the skin. If your shunt is in your belly, you may feel occasional discomfort as the tubing settles into place. You may feel more tired when first returning home. Be sure to rest; however, you should also do gentle stretching and exercises such as walking each day, and try to do a little more every few days as your strength returns. 


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