Ventricular Shunt for Hydrocephalus
Hydrocephalus (hydro=water, cephalus=head) is an abnormal increase of cerebral spinal fluid
(CSF) in the brain. This can be caused by problems with how the CSF is produced, circulated, or
When CSF collects in the brain, pressure in the head increases and the ventricles enlarge. This
causes sickness. Symptoms vary with the age of the patient and include one or more from the list
Decrease in appetite
Increase in infant’s head size
“Sunset eyes” (eyes which do not look
Blurred or double vision
Clumsiness in older kids and adults
Normal Ventricles Hydrocephalic Ventricles
Treatment for hydrocephalus
To reduce pressure on the brain, the CSF must drain
off of the brain. One way to do this is to place a
shunt during surgery.
A shunt is a soft, narrow piece of tubing that drains
the excess CSF from the ventricles to the abdomen
or the space around the heart or lungs. Once the
shunt is placed, the CSF is absorbed by the body.
ξ A small hole will be made through the skull
ξ Tubing is placed through the hole into the brain
ξ A one-way valve is attached to the catheter and
placed under the scalp.
ξ The valve is then fastened to the catheter that
travels under the skin to the abdomen or the
space around the heart or lungs.
ξ A small incision is made where the catheter
ends. The operation will take about two hours.
You will have a physical exam and lab tests that
include blood work and urinalysis.
Please schedule this pre-operative appointment with your primary care provider or with a
nurse practitioner in our department.
This appointment should be done within 30 days of surgery—we may cancel surgery without
an updated pre-operative exam.
Please contact your insurance company to obtain any needed referrals.
Please stop the following medicines for two weeks before surgery. It is alright to use
acetaminophen (Tylenol®) if needed.
o Aspirin, Excedrin®, Ascriptin®, and Ecotrin®
o Vitamins and herbal supplements
o Coumadin® or Warfarin
o Ibuprofen, Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®, and Aleve®
Wash your hair, neck, chest, and abdomen twice before surgery. Please use an antibacterial
soap. Wash (do not scrub) for 2-3 minutes. Rinse well. Do not use lotions, powders, or
Please no smoking or exposure to cigarette smoke for two weeks prior to surgery. Smoking
delays wound healing. Cigarette smoke contains a poison that lowers the level of oxygen in
After midnight the night before surgery
o You may not eat anything
o You may not drink any milk or juice with pulp
Up until 4 hours before surgery
o It is alright to drink clear liquids
You will be called the afternoon before surgery. At this time you will be told
o What time you need to arrive at the hospital
o The final details about how to get ready for the next day
You will need to sign a consent form that states that you understand what the neurosurgeon
explained to you about the procedure. The consent also states that you know about the risks
and benefits of the surgery.
Do not wear make-up, jewelry, or nail polish to surgery.
There is mild pain involved with this surgery. Acetaminophen (Tylenol ) or Ibuprofen may be
used for this mild pain.
You will spend a minimum of one night in the hospital. Once you are eating and drinking and
there are no other concerns, your intravenous (IV) line will be removed. When all of this
happens you will be ready to go home.
There may be two dressings in place. One will be on the head and one on the torso. The
dressing and staples stay in place until the follow-up clinic visit in 7 – 10 days. The dressing
should remain clean and dry. If there is any clear drainage from the incision, call the
neurosurgery department right away.
After discharge, you may resume your normal routine.
You should wait at least two weeks after surgery before getting immunizations.
You will need regular follow up with a neurosurgeon. You will also need MRI scans to check
the size of the ventricles.
When to call
Sometimes a shunt does not work because it becomes clogged or disconnected. It also may not
work if it becomes infected.
Please call right away if you notice any of these signs and symptoms:
ξ Redness, pain or swelling of the skin along the length of the shunt, or at the incision sites
ξ Drainage from the incision
ξ Fever greater than 101.5 θF within the first six months of surgery
ξ Symptoms of hydrocephalus
o Nausea or vomiting
o Recurring headaches
o Blurred or double vision
o Loss of appetite
o Sudden or gradual change in personality
o Rubbing of the head
o Balance or coordination problems
o Sunset eyes
American Family Children’s Hospital Clinic: (608) 263-6420
After hours, weekends, and holidays, call the paging operator at (608) 262-0486. Ask for the
neurosurgeon on call. Give your name and phone number with the area code. The doctor will
call you back.
If you live out of the area, call 1-800-323-8942
Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #5972
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 2/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5258