Neurosurgical Specialists of West County

Neurosurgeons located in Saint Louis, MO

Having excess cerebrospinal fluid on your brain could cause serious health problems, and draining the fluid is essential to prevent pressure building up. The team at Neurosurgical Specialists of West County in St. Louis, MO, has extensive experience performing surgery to insert the shunts that enable drainage of cerebrospinal fluid, using the latest programmable technology. Find out more by calling the practice today.

Shunt Q & A

What is a shunt?

A shunt is a slim plastic tube that your neurosurgeon places in your brain, or sometimes in the spine, that allows excess cerebrospinal fluid to drain away.

Excess fluid in the brain that builds up as a result of conditions such as hydrocephalus can cause serious problems due to pressure on the brain, and a shunt is an effective way of managing this issue.

How does a shunt work?

The excess fluid passes through the shunt and into another part of your body, where it gets processed naturally. Shunts reroute fluid to three main areas of the body:

  • Abdomen (ventriculoperitoneal or lumboperitoneal shunt)
  • Lung (ventriculopleural shunt)
  • Heart (ventriculoatrial shunt)

Your neurosurgeon recommends which type of shunt is best for you before any surgical procedure. On the day of your surgery, you spend about an hour on the operating table and stay in the hospital for 1-2 days. 

Afterward, you attend regular checkups with your provider at Neurosurgical Specialists of West County to make sure the shunt is working as it should.

Modern shunts are programmable, which means that using a specific magnetic device, your provider can adjust the way the shunt’s working without needing to operate again. In most shunts, the higher your setting, the less fluid is draining away, and the lower your setting, the more fluid is draining away.

New models of shunt aren’t affected by any magnets you might encounter in daily life, but check with your neurosurgeon if you’re concerned. They can advise you what type of shunt you have and whether you need to take any precautions.

You may also need an anti-siphon device to prevent over-drainage, which your neurosurgeon fits at the same time as your shunt.

Are there any risks associated with having a shunt?

The risk of leaving cerebrospinal fluid to build up in the skull is significant and life-threatening, so having a shunt could save your life. However, there are possible risks associated with having a shunt, such as:

  • Blockage in the shunt
  • Shunt malfunction causing over- or under-drainage
  • Infection of the wound
  • Meningitis

If you experience any of these symptoms after having a shunt, you should seek medical advice:

  • Headache
  • Persistent nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Worsening gait or balance

You must also arrange an adjustment of the shunt if you need to have an MRI scan as the magnetic field used by the MRI could affect the shunt’s settings.

Shunts can last for several years before needing to be replaced, with about half needing attention after six years.

To find out more about hydrocephalus and the use of shunts, call Neurosurgical Specialists of West County today.