Ven­tricu­loperi­toneal (VP) Shunt for Hydrocephalus

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Ven­tricu­loperi­toneal (VP) shunt surgery is the most com­mon treat­ment for hydro­cephalus. It is a neu­ro­sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure done to drain excess fluid (cere­brospinal fluid, or CSF) away from the brain.

How does it work? CSF is drained through a flex­i­ble sil­i­con tube, called a shunt, to another part of the body (usu­ally the abdom­i­nal cav­ity) where the reab­sorp­tion of this fluid can safely take place.


Your Surgery

This pro­ce­dure is done in the oper­at­ing room under gen­eral anaes­thetic, which means you will be asleep dur­ing the oper­a­tion.
An inci­sion is made on the head and the abdomen. A small catheter is passed into a ven­tri­cle of the brain. The tub­ing of the shunt is threaded through the fatty tis­sue just under the skin, into the abdom­i­nal cav­ity. On the aver­age, this oper­a­tion takes 2 hours to com­plete. It is a fairly com­mon neu­ro­sur­gi­cal procedure.

The risks of this pro­ce­dure will be explained to you before you sign your con­sent form. No surgery is absolutely safe and with­out risk. Pos­si­ble risks of any surgery include bleed­ing, infec­tion, or effects of anaesthesia.

After surgery, the nurses will mon­i­tor your vital signs (pulse, res­pi­ra­tion, tem­per­a­ture, blood pres­sure) closely for the first few hours while in the recov­ery room, and then rou­tinely once you have been trans­ferred to the neu­ro­sur­gi­cal floor.

Shunt surgery usu­ally involves min­i­mal pain. Med­ica­tions are avail­able to ensure you are kept comfortable.

You will have a dress­ing on your head and a small dress­ing on your abdomen. These dress­ings will be changed before you are dis­charged home from the hos­pi­tal. The sutures are removed after 7 to 10 days. The aver­age length of stay in the hos­pi­tal is from 2 to 4 days.

As with any surgery, com­pli­ca­tions are rare but can occur. Com­pli­ca­tions asso­ci­ated with this surgery may include: 1) obstruc­tion (block­ing of the shunt tub­ing); 2) infec­tion; 3) mechan­i­cal mal­func­tion (break­ing or dis­lo­ca­tion of the shunt); and, 4) overdrainage of CSF.

Surgery to replace or repair the shunt may be required should one of these com­pli­ca­tions occur.

The out­come of the surgery is usu­ally extremely good. How­ever, hydro­cephalus may be asso­ci­ated with con­di­tions, such as menin­gi­tis or a brain tumour, which influ­ence prog­no­sis and your longterm recov­ery to good health. A VP shunt does not cure these under­ly­ing diseases.


  • Nau­sea and vomiting
  • Recur­ring headaches
  • Red­ness, pain or swelling along the shunt tract
  • Fever greater than 38.5C
  • Irri­tabil­ity or exces­sive sleepiness
  • Bal­ance, coor­di­na­tion prob­lems, weakness
  • Vision prob­lems (ie: blurred or dou­ble vision)
  • Per­son­al­ity changes

If you expe­ri­ence any of these things, you should call your neurosurgeon’s office.

Infor­ma­tion about InfoNEURO
Neuro-​Patient Resource Cen­tre
Mon­treal Neu­ro­log­i­cal Hosp­tial Room 354
Tel: (514) 3985358
E-​mail: infoneuro@​muhc.​mcgill.​ca
Web site: http://​infoneuro​.mcgill​.ca/

This infor­ma­tion is for edu­ca­tional pur­poses only, and is not intended to replace the advice of a pro­fes­sional health­care prac­ti­tioner, or to sub­sti­tute for med­ical care.

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Con­trib­u­tors: Carol-​Ann Miller MSc(A), Nurse Man­ager and Andrew Stein­metz
Series Edi­tor: Dr. David Sin­clair (Neu­ro­surgery)

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