What is the role of shunts in the treatment of hydrocephalus?

Updated: Jun 04, 2018
  • Author: Stephen L Nelson, Jr, MD, PhD, FAACPDM, FAAN, FAAP; Chief Editor: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA  more...
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Shunts eventually are performed in most patients. Only about 25% of patients with hydrocephalus are treated successfully without shunt placement. The principle of shunting is to establish a communication between the CSF (ventricular or lumbar) and a drainage cavity (peritoneum, right atrium, pleura). Remember that shunts are not perfect and that all alternatives to shunting should be considered first.

  • A ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunt is used most commonly. The lateral ventricle is the usual proximal location. The advantage of this shunt is that the need to lengthen the catheter with growth may be obviated by using a long peritoneal catheter.

  • A ventriculoatrial (VA) shunt also is called a "vascular shunt." It shunts the cerebral ventricles through the jugular vein and superior vena cava into the right cardiac atrium. It is used when the patient has abdominal abnormalities (eg, peritonitis, morbid obesity, or after extensive abdominal surgery). This shunt requires repeated lengthening in a growing child.

  • A lumboperitoneal shunt is used only for communicating hydrocephalus, CSF fistula, or pseudotumor cerebri.

  • A Torkildsen shunt is used rarely. It shunts the ventricle to the cisternal space and is effective only in acquired obstructive hydrocephalus.

  • A ventriculopleural shunt is considered second line. It is used if other shunt types are contraindicated.

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