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Health Information For Parents
A ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt is a thin plastic tube that helps drain extra cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the brain. CSF is the saltwater that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord.
VP shunts are placed to treat hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus (hi-droh-SEF-eh-less) happens when CSF does not drain out of the hollow spaces inside the brain (called ventricles) as it should. VP shunts drain the extra fluid and help prevent pressure from getting too high in the brain.
Most shunts have two catheters (small, thin tubes) connected by a valve. One end of the upstream
is in a ventricle. The other end of the downstream catheter is in the peritoneal (pair-et-NEE-ul) cavity. This is the space inside the belly where the stomach and the bowels sit. The shunt is all inside the body, under the skin.
The valve opens when the pressure in the brain gets too high. This lets fluid drain from the brain into the peritoneal space. From there, the extra fluid is absorbed into the bloodstream and filtered out in the kidneys. Then the body can pee out the extra fluid.
Your child cannot eat or drink for several hours before the surgery. Tell the doctor about any medicines your child takes. Some might need to be stopped before the surgery. Also let the doctor know if your child has any allergies.
Your child should have clean hair (no grooming products) at the time of the surgery.
Your child will stay in the hospital after the surgery, so bring toiletries and other items that will help make the stay more comfortable.
A surgeon will do the VP shunt placement in an operating room. Your child will get anesthesia to sleep during the surgery and not feel pain. A small area of hair might be shaved, then the surgeon will make small incisions (cuts) in the scalp.
After making a small hole in the skull, the surgeon will place the tip of the catheter into the brain. This catheter is connected to a valve, which is then connected to a second catheter. When the shunt is in place, the doctor closes the incisions with stitches or staples, and puts on bandages.
The catheter runs under the skin into the belly, so you can’t see it. You might be able to feel where the tubing travels under the skin in the neck.
Parents cannot be in the operating room, but can wait nearby during the surgery.
After the surgery, the doctors and nurses will watch your child closely in the recovery room. Your child will have bandages on the incision sites.
The doctor will talk to you about:
VP shunts are generally safe, but there are some risks during and after the surgery. There can be bleeding, or an infection can develop.
VP shunts to not work forever. When the shunt stops working:
Problems with a VP shunt happen even with regular care and at unpredictable times. The shunt can get worn out or move as a child grows.
A shunt also can get infected, which can be very serious. It’s important for families to follow the surgeon’s instructions for when to call and when to go to the ER. This way, treatment for an infected or worn out shunt can start as soon as possible.
Call the doctor right away if your child:
Often called “water on the brain,” hydrocephalus can cause babies’ and young children’s heads to swell to make room for excess cerebrospinal fluid. Learn how this condition is managed.
A brain MRI, a safe and painless test that produces detailed images of the brain and the brain stem, can help detect cysts, tumors, bleeding, and other problems.
A head CAT scan is a painless test that uses a special X-ray machine to take pictures of a patient’s brain, skull, and sinuses, as well as blood vessels in the head. It might be done to check for any number of conditions.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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